October was a strong month for music: Adrianne Lenker brought memorable folk flavor to fall’s onset, Open Mike Eagle dreamily excelled and HEALTH presented us with a head-punching collaborative album to round out a list of great October releases. Still, there were a few things that may have passed under your radar. Have no fear, dear reader! Music beat reporters Vincent Tran and Crew Bittner are here to provide you with a few recommendations, as well as a playlist, of highlights you might’ve missed in the music world this past month.
Released at the tail end of September, the debut solo single from Romy Madley Croft of The xx poured over into October with a dreamy soundscape that is urgent, fleeting and warm. The song finds Croft celebrating the feeling of togetherness and a shared moment of connection, paying homage to ’90s Eurodance and rave music acts like Pet Shop Boys and La Bouche. “Lifetime” is utterly irresistible, an exuberant slice of dance pop that yearns for the anticipated post-pandemic future when lockdown ends and people can share physically close moments on the dance floor once again.
— Vincent Tran
Everywhere at the End of Time, The Caretaker
Earlier this month, the Caretaker Challenge descended on TikTok. It’s centered around listening to The Caretaker’s sprawling, six-and-a-half-hour magnum opus Everywhere at the End of Time, with the “challenge” being to endure the existential dread that the album, released in six stages, conveys. The piece aims to musically describe the process and feeling of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and it does so with chilling soundscapes and sampled reworkings of old ballroom songs.
The music is vast and empty even in the album’s early stages, when the mind has supposedly degenerated the least. However, later on in the album, the music totally falls apart into eerie snippets, like vague, immaterial phantoms flitting about the recesses of the mind. The music abruptly cuts off, shattering and fading without any care for the listener. It is supplemented by a variety of dismally poetic titles, from “It’s Just a Burning Memory” to “Internal Bewildered World” to “Place in the World fades away.” It is not a pleasant listen, but it feels like a necessary one, a piece of music that confronts our fears. It’s an album best listened to in the afternoon, around others or outside in the sun. It is unrelenting, miserable and fascinating.
— Crew Bittner
“Faith Healer,” Julien Baker
Ahead of her upcoming album “Little Oblivions,” Julien Baker has released “Faith Healer,” a stunning confessional that confronts substance abuse and escapism. The track soars atop building piano chords and rumbling percussion that topples over in an emotional release at the song’s height. The best parts of Baker’s music are the powerful, cathartic choruses of her songs, which wrestle with faith, love and personal salvation; the gravity of her latest will stick with you long after she delivers the final line: “I’ll believe you if you make me feel something.”
— Vincent Tran
Mouth Dreams, Neil Cicierega
Internet comedian Neil Cicierega is a bit of a Forrest Gump character, inexplicably present for a wide swath of the history of the “middle internet” — that age when everything was Adobe Flash animations and rage comics, and everyone had access but not everyone was online. This focus on the culture of the internet formed the central ethos for Cicierega’s series of mashup albums, the most recent of which is Mouth Dreams. The albums are blasphemous and delightful, combining elements of songs that have no right belonging together.
“Spongerock” combines Queen’s “We will Rock You” with the SpongeBob SquarePants theme song. The Pixies’ “Where is my Mind” clashes with “Stacy’s Mom” by Fountains of Wayne on “Where is my Mom.” Johnny Cash and Justin Bieber sit alongside each other with the same hilarious ease as Billy Joel and Avenged Sevenfold. The list goes on and on, and it’s great to read the list of samples beforehand just to see what the album has in store. It hammers comedy through music and music alone, and it fires on all cylinders as it does so, drawing largely from Cicierega’s vast musical knowledge and sampling prowess. It is unrelenting, hilarious and fascinating.
Listen here: http://www.neilcic.com/mouthdreams/
— Crew Bittner
“Don’t (Just) Vote,” Cass McCombs, Angel Olsen
Cass McCombs’ latest, performed with Angel Olsen, is an update of his oft-misunderstood song “Don’t Vote” off of the 2009 record Catacombs. Revamped with livelier guitars and relevant lyrics surrounding the 2020 election, “Don’t (Just) Vote” is an engaging piece of protest music that urges listeners to do their part in upholding democracy. The song features backing vocals from Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead and a spoken-word part from none other than American philosopher and political activist Noam Chomsky. All royalties from the single are being donated to Elevate Oakland, a local nonprofit organization that offers art and music programs to youth. As Chomsky reminds us so crucially in the song’s outro, “You push the lever, you have to keep/ the shoulder, the wheel/ Engagement, activism, organizing/ That’s what’ll make the difference.”
— Vincent Tran
Other notable releases: Before EP — James Blake, Róisín Machine — Róisín Murphy, Agüita — Gabriel Garzón-Montano, “Donuts Mind if I Do” — CHAI