This Week’s Model — Eric Church, “Stick That in Your Country Song”

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I barely follow it, and even I know it’s been a helluva week for country music. I’m sure there are still plenty of practitioners of the form still relying on pickup truck cliches and jingoistic garbage to propel their creativity, but at least some country artists have decided the time has come to draw some lines. As part of the welcome, elongated trek back into music-making, a trio of unlikely agitators dropped Dixie from their name and released a fiery new protest song that further increases the likelihood that I will ask the proprietor of my favorite independently-owned record store to set aside a copy of what will now be the first album billed officially to the Chicks. At about the same time, Eric Church delivered his own tuneful demand for change, specifically calling out his country music peers for shying away from the significant social issues of the day.

“Stick That in Your Country Song” is a roundhouse punch of dissatisfaction, especially powerful because it’s coming from someone who’s hardly a disgruntled outsider. Three of Church’s last four studio albums topped the country charts, and at least six of his solo singles have reached the same pinnacle on their respective list. So when he offers the challenge to write and perform songs about wounded veterans, abandoned cities, and underpaid teachers, he’s implicitly including himself in the call to do better. On that front this stomper is goddamn good start, reminding me of vintage Steve Earle. I can muster few higher compliments for a country song.

 

This Week’s Model — Leon Bridges, “Sweeter”

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It’s probably unnecessarily reductive and comparative to note that “Sweeter” represents a sign that Leon Bridges is about to move into the What’s Going On phase of his career. But that’s what I finding myself thinking as I listen to the new single, while finds the modern soul singer lamenting the lack of progress in the U.S. since the tumult of the civil rights movement on the nineteen-fifties and nineteen-sixties: “I thought we moved on from the darker days/ Did the words of the King disappear in the air/ Like a butterfly?” The song obviously couldn’t be more timely, but it’s not only its reflection of today’s headline that gives it power. It’s a beauty under any circumstances. The fact that the song’s message could have been pertinent at practically any point in the past fifty years, at least, makes it a heartbreaker.

 

This Week’s Model — Bob Mould, “American Crisis”

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Of all the enduring figures of college rock’s heyday in the nineteen-eighties and early nineteen-nineties, no one mines their own history more effectively than Bob Mould. Across his last several albums, Mould has drawn upon most of the sounds that have shaped his career from Hüsker Dü’s power to Sugar’s sheen to the measured intricacies of much of his preceding solo work. One musical characteristic that’s been largely absent across that recent work is a proper nod to Mould’s foundational beginnings in the hardcore scene. Evidently, he just needed to get angry enough.

“American Crisis” speaks to the calamity of now with earned fury. “I never thought I’d see this bullshit again” is the first enraged lyric, followed by a stream of invectives against the regressive attitudes that have led to the current place, with people literally fighting for their lives against a callous power structure desperate the maintain the imbalance of rich, white, male, heterosexual, cisgendered privilege. There are a multitude of sonic representations of morally necessary rebellion. I have to admit, Mould’s version is the one I most favor. It scorches.

This Week’s Model — Painted Zeros, “I Will Try”

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In deeply unsettled days such as these, there might be no better and timelier message than the proclamation of endurance found in “I Will Try,” the new track from Painted Zeros. The chief creative outlet of singer-songwriter Katie Lau, Painted Zeroes delivers a forceful and intricate brand of indie rock, like a version of Rilo Kiley that wants to play a little rougher. Lau reports her inspiration for the new song was a personal choice to get sober and the resulting improvement to her general well-being. It’s easy to apply the sentiments to any number of personal scenarios where getting through a hard time is its own triumph. When Lau imagines she’ll be remembered with the phrase “She tried her best,” there’s no defeat to that. Realistically, isn’t that exactly who we all hope to be?

When You Found Forever, the sophomore release from Painted Zeros, is out today.

This Week’s Model — Shilpa Ray, “Manic Pixie Dream Cunt”

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For our household, it started at the Hideout. Looking for concert stops to make on a road trip a couple years back, we went to a little club in Chicago and bought our tickets for a performer we’d never heard of. Clutching local beers and standing in midst of the tight room, we had one of those music-filled nights that approaches perfection. It was the ideal introduction to Shilpa Ray.

Presiding over her harmonium, Ray and her band moved through a set of pointedly raucous songs, steeped in the roughest blues and the greasiest garage rock. And yet there was also a cabaret clarity and a crafty tunefulness to the material that made it more than a mere sonic bulldozer. Fortified by a march of whiskey pours delivered by the audience like Fantasia brooms, Ray sang with raw-throated fury, as if building might collapse at any moment and meeting it with a rebellious bellow was the only proper way to go down fighting.

Ray’s new single, which is a song that’s been in her live sets for a while, is another of the bruised-knuckle battle cries that ensnared me in the first place. Fierce and unapologetic, “Manic Pixie Dream Cunt” could sound like a put-on from just about anyone else. In Ray’s repertoire, it’s a comfortable part of the through line, the latest chapter in the manifesto memoir about not giving a damn about what anyone else thinks.

This Week’s Model — The Beths, “I’m Not Getting Excited”

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Buzzy guitars, a relentless beat, keening vocals racing through intricate lyrics, an irresistible hook that somehow gives was to another hook and maybe yet another hook, a squalling guitar solo, a false ending, and it’s all over in just over two and a half minutes. Really, I couldn’t ask for anything more.

Jump Rope Gazers, the second album from New Zealand band the Beths, is scheduled for release on July 10, 2020.

This Week’s Model — Christian Lee Hutson, “Get the Old Band Back Together”

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Now this is the sort midlife pining for past glories that speaks to a sad sack such as myself. Christian Lee Hutson has been kicking around as a singer-songwriter for a few years now, but his star took a turn towards ascendancy when he starting collaborating with Phoebe Bridgers, that uncanny alchemist of indie rock magic dust. Bridgers is the producer of Hutson’s forthcoming album, Beginners, and her panache with ruefully downbeat beauty is all over this track. But it’s truly Hutson’s clever that makes the song special, dispensing unfussy, perfectly realized details (“After the baby, everything changed/ I only have a couple of nights these days”) and maintaining a gentle comic tone. No wonder he’s bummed out no one wants to play it fuckin’ loud.

 

This Week’s Model — Hinds, “Just Like Kids”

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“Just Like Kids,” the new single from Hinds, is sunny, shiny, and beautifully bratty at the same time. With a punk-cool underpinning and a touch of the pop-turned-inside-out wild invention Wayne Coyne employed during the heyday of the Flaming Lips, Hinds directly addresses the condescending nonsense they regularly endure as a rock band populated exclusively by women. Making music is their job and their art, but that doesn’t stop unduly confident fools from stepping forward as unwanted consultants. “Can I tell you something about you and your band?/ Cause I’m sure you’d love to listen to my advice,” the song opens, and it only gets more frustrating from there. As with Kathleen Hanna at her fiery best, Hinds makes their venting cathartic, catchy, and brusquely hilarious.

The Prettiest Curse, the new album from Hinds, was set in early April and is now pandemic-delayed to June.

This Week’s Model — The 1975, “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)”

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Gleaming and pretty and just a touch odd, “If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know),” the new single from U.K. band the 1975, invites admiring comparisons to the particular brand of nineteen-eighties music, practiced by the likes of Tears for Fears and Simple Minds, that tightroped its way across the thin divide between bombastic rock and lively synth-pop. And the throwback vibe is all but undeniable. For me, though, it calls to mind some very specific practitioners of the art form that never got even the faintest whiff of Top 40 glory. The airy guitars and bouncing-ball beat are an echo of “Kidney Bingos” and other tracks from the strange, wonderful stretch of Wire’s musical history when they almost entirely abandoned the jagged punk fury of their early days in favor of pop numbers that were genial but still defiantly odd.

I’ll pledge right now that if the next single from the 1975 makes me think of “Eardrum Buzz,” I will be a fan for life.