It’s technically not spring just yet, but the first couple months of 2020 have already produced some top-tier singles that I’ll have on repeat over the next few months. So while there’s still most of an entire year’s worth of music ahead of us, here’s a playlist of 10 songs to put in your headphones right now.
Khruangbin & Leon Bridges – “C-Side”
I’m not sure it would have occurred to me before that Texas psychedelic rock band Khruangbin and R&B crooner Leon Bridges, also from Texas, would make natural collaborators. But on their new EP Texas Sun, named in tribute to their home state, they work together in a kind of effortless harmony. This song is a particular highlight, all laid-back dub grooves and limitless atmosphere.
Bambara – “Serafina”
I think I’ve made it pretty clear that “make it more goth” is a proven formula to get me to like someone’s music, and few bands today are harnessing that darkness in a more exciting way than Bambara. The Brooklyn group merge narrative storytelling with a post-punk sound, and “Serafina” is a perfect example of how thrilling it can be when it all comes together.
Soccer Mommy – “lucy”
Soccer Mommy’s acclaimed 2018 breakthrough Clean presented Sophie Allison as an indie artist to watch, and she’s shown a lot of growth in just two years. Her new album color theory is out this week, showcasing more range, bigger production and some of the best songs she’s written to date, including “lucy,” a song with lots of dreamy layers, and the kind of unexpectedly tense ‘90s alt-rock sound that teenage me would have flipped my lid for.
Caribou – “You and I”
Caribou’s Dan Snaith has a catalog that comprises everything from relatively straightforward house music to kaleidoscopic psychedelic pop. “You and I,” a single from his upcoming album Suddenly, is somewhere between the two, a low-key synth-pop track that unexpectedly erupts into a euphoric collage of samples. It’s a haunted melancholy that seamlessly turns joyous and fun without warning.
Jeff Parker – “3 for L”
Guitarist Jeff Parker’s been playing in a variety of different groups and releasing solo material for more than two decades, including the iconic Chicago post-rock group Tortoise. His latest release, Suite for Max Brown, is a set of music dedicated to his mother, and it’s a delightful mixture of fusion-funk exercises and more straightforward jazz ballads. This is one of the latter, a spacious and cool number that finds a mood and gets comfortable with it.
Moses Sumney – “Conveyor”
Art-pop singer/songwriter Moses Sumney made a big entrance a few years back with his immersive, atmospheric debut album Aromanticism. His latest, grae, is being released in two separate installments, with the most recent having just dropped last week. And while it’s technically not a complete work on its own (the other half arrives in May), it feels self-contained, a rich world unto itself. It contains some of the most ambitious songs in Sumney’s catalog to date, like this, an experimental pop gem that features lots of electronic layers, gorgeous vocal melodies and plenty of curious ear candy.
Frances Quinlan – “A Secret”
Frances Quinlan’s best known for fronting Philadelphia indie rock outfit Hop Along, whose catalog is well worth diving into, if you haven’t already. But while Hop Along is a full-band effort now, it began as a solo project. So in some ways, releasing her first solo album Likewise was something of a return to her roots. Likewise is a diverse record that goes in a lot of different directions, but my favorite track is this stark, stripped-down acoustic track. You can easily hear it turning into a big rock anthem in Hop Along’s hands, but here it’s more intimate and given plenty of room to breathe. It’s perfect just as it is.
Destroyer – “Crimson Tide”
The greatest appeal of Dan Bejar’s songwriting is the intricate wordplay and layers of self-referential narratives that the Canadian singer/songwriter infuses into his songs as Destroyer. But he also changes up his musical approach with essentially every release, and after the darker textures of 2017’s ken, he’s opted for a maximalist approach reminiscent of ‘80s pop on new album Have We Met. Opener “Crimson Tide” is one of its best moments, an epic anthem heavy on synthesizers and slap bass.
Shabaka and the Ancestors – “Go My Heart, Go To Heaven”
If you had told me 10 years ago that the most exciting and influential new music in 2020 would be jazz, well, it’s not that I wouldn’t have believed you, it just might have taken a leap of faith given how long since it’s been part of pop music’s conversation. Shabaka Hutchings is one of the most important figures in making that case, having released some amazing recent albums with Sons of Kemet and The Comet Is Coming (who are playing Coachella this year). Shabaka and the Ancestors is his South Africa-based spiritual jazz outfit, and the first single from their upcoming album is a mystical, complex and enchanting mix of jazz and psychedelia that shows why, as far as I’m concerned, jazz is where you’ll find some of the most groundbreaking music this year.
Yves Tumor – “Gospel for a New Century”
Yves Tumor is easily the strangest and most enigmatic artist among this batch, but his unpredictability is what makes him one of the most exciting. Early on, his recordings were abstract and abrasive, but he’s evolved into making some of the most imaginative pop music in America today. “Gospel for a New Century” is the first taste of the upcoming Heaven to a Tortured Mind, and it’s simultaneously intense and a whole lot of fun, layering big, horn-heavy samples beneath his empowered break-up narrative. I definitely see this being on heavy rotation well into summer.
Recommended Shows This Week:
Lower Dens (February 26, The Casbah): Baltimore’s Lower Dens have been gradually evolving over the past decade, changing up their formula ever so slightly—from dream pop to a more hypnotic psychedelic sound to one more heavily drenched in synths. And it’s pretty much all great.
Hours Record Release Party (February 28, Black Cat Bar): Local shoegaze doom outfit Hours create dirges that lean toward the darker side, but never at the expense of a strong melody. Seeing them live will always reinforce that they’re one of the city’s most powerful live acts, but they’re finally releasing a new full-length, and their release party includes some other great local acts to have on your radar, including D.Wrex and Meager.
A Bowie Celebration: Bowie Alumni play Diamond Dogs and Ziggy Stardust (March 3, Belly Up): There will never be another artist like Bowie. There may be other artists who change our perceptions of music, certainly, but Bowie was a once-in-a-lifetime artist. So it’s perfectly natural that his music continues to live on in various tribute performances and the like. However, this is the only one that features musicians who have actually played in Bowie’s band before, including pianist Mike Garson.