Powerful moments in music can come in vastly different forms, from an epic, life-affirming 93-minute rock opera to the just-kind-of-perfect 50-second bedroom pop ballad. In July, we were intrigued by releases that took both of those forms (the new Titus record, the new Radiator Hospital single). While considering the Best Music of 2015 (So Far), we decided to “prioritize the music itself rather than arbitrary formats” and ultimately put fewer limits on what could qualify for our list: albums, EPs, cassettes, Bandcamp releases, 7-inches, and one-off singles were all fair game. We’ve stayed true to that limitlessness when reflecting on the best music of this past month, too. Ultimately, the first full month of summer gave birth to some of favorite new music of the entire year so far, from the crucial personal politics and intricate guitar work of Aye Nako’s new EP for Don Giovanni, The Blackest Eye, to the sweet-sung indie pop lilt of Florida’s Naps and subtly powerful electronic pop of Philadelphia’s Shakai Mondai.
THE BEST ALBUM OF JULY 2015
In terms of actual full-length albums, our top pick for July was clear: “I really appreciate Momentary Lapse of Happily because so much of it was me needing to cope, needing to write about it, but so much of it was also like, ‘this my saving grace in that this is an archive or monument of shit that has gone down’,” Steph Knipe told us in July, referring to Adult Mom’s debut full-length album for Tiny Engines. Narrative aside, it is an aural time capsule of all the previous Adult Mom releases: a combination of the joyful bubblegum of 2013’s I Fell In Love by Accident and the sentimental wisdom of 2014’s Sometimes Bad Happens.
With that in mind, the record begins appropriately with “Be Your Own 3AM,” a song about being your own source of comfort and validation: “Now I hold my own hands in crowds of bands and my friends / Jen always says to me ‘You gotta be your own 3AM.’” “Survival” is Momentary’s anthem of sorts, highlighting the struggles Knipe has dealt with since coming out—an ode to self care, a reflection on identity anxiety. “I set fire to abusers like a war / I am a terror but I don’t know what it is I fight for,” they cheerfully warn before proclaiming, “I survive because I have died.”
Read more: “Adult Mom survives on their own terms” by Quinn Moreland, 7/28/15
Aye Nako, The Blackest Eye EP
Aye Nako’s 2013 debut full-length, Unleash Yourself, won many hearts by setting relatable anecdotes against irresistible pop-punk hooks. And their follow-up, The Blackest Eye, released July 10 on Don Giovanni Records, does the same and more. The album’s title alludes to Toni Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye, and similarly deals with themes of identity, abuse, power, race, and inferiority. Such urgently necessary topics are explored on the record’s lyrics, like when Mars Dixon sings, “I’ve let the white noise fuzz in my head for so long,” on the lead single.
LVL UP, Three Songs EP
LVL UP’s first release via Run For Cover records was unleashed in a fairly low-key way, posted online surrounding the summer tour that’s currently bringing them across the country. “I don’t know what I’m looking for / the closing door has brought my body here before,” hums Dave Benton on “The Closing Door” over a jangly backdrop reminiscent of the twinkle-box world of the Magnetic Fields. Benton has the rare ability to transform the mundane details into universally relatable declarations of uncertainty. A door might be closing but you get the sense you’re entering a private place.
Shakai Mondai, Bad EP
On July 28, Odd Castles released the debut by Philadelphia’s Shakai Mondai, Bad. On the title track, mixed and mastered by fellow Soundcloud producers Sally Decker (Multa Nox) and Regina Campuzano (Maladama), every stand out instrumental or vocal line is instantly subdued, trading in a single exciting moment for a series of understated ones. From the murmuring synth to the dark bassline “Bad” moves you along in a way that’s quiet and seamless. It truly is a lot like dreaming: having no idea why you’re in a place or when you got there, and by the time you’ve left you can’t remember leaving.
Titus Andronicus, The Most Lamentable Tragedy
The Jersey punx truly one-upped themselves with this one: a 93-minute, 28-track rock opera that Patrick Stickles has described as semi-autobiographyically covering daily struggles with manic depression, and how that impacts interactions, creaity, and decision making. As Nicolo Porcello wrote back in April, stand-out album cut “Dimed Out” takes this head on, the band’s recognizable slurry-pop punk firmly in place. The new record is a firm addition to the canon Titus has built over their past 10 years.
Ursula, Hair Salon
Boston’s fiercest noise-punk duo URSULA quietly released one of the best tapes of the summer in July, a scuzzy full-length cassette that follows the promising collection of demos they’ve posted over the past year year. The 8-song tape shifts from uncontrollable explosive moments to out-there, slow-churning story songs about “intestines, spit, dying, cum, hair and blood“, as rolling punk riffs deconstruct into experimental breakdowns. It’s out on the band’s own label, MINA’s WORLD.
Stream: URSULA’s Hair Salon
Sean Henry, It’s All About Me
Formerly known as Boy Crush, Sean Henry is also the Brooklyn-based singer of High Pop. His new solo full-length four Double Double Whammy, It’s All About Me, is full of passionate expressions of simultaneous anxiety and apathy. “It was made in about three months about a year ago,” Henry told us in a July interview. “I lived on a farm outside of the city and I was unemployed… It was a simple and productive time in my life, where I ate too many chicken wings and one of my biggest immediate problems was my downstairs neighbor, a religious older woman, complaining about loud drums.”
Radiator Hospital / Algebra III, Split charity single
Fifty seconds might not amount to much, but sometimes, when they’re just the right fifty seconds, they can be exactly what you need. Such is the promise of the latest Radiator Hospital single, a crushingly sincere little vignette of bedroom-recorded blues that doesn’t even break the 1-minute mark. “It’s not fair that I feel something when there’s nothing there at all,” sings Sam Cook-Parrott as the song draws to a close. It’s the A side of a split single out on Apollonian Sound with Algebra III, and all proceeds go to the Syliva Rivera Law Project.
Naps, You Will Live in a Cool Box
Impose has been eagerly gobbling up each track from the Tallahassee foursome Naps since hearing their debut track “Jean Skirt Mystique” last June. This month, we were equally excited to hear the band’s debut album, You Will Live In A Cool Box. The five-track record contains the previously released “Jean Skirt Mystique,” “Floral Mattress,” and “Sandspurs” along with two new songs. One of the new cuts is a cleverly named, “Ellen Degenerate.” It is Naps’ noisiest song yet, complete with twin harmonies and the desperate plea, “I would hire you to come and run me over with a truck / I would pay my friends to reassure me that they give a fuck.”
Gem Trails, Apartment for Lucy
Trevor Peterson is something of a staple in the Brooklyn music community, as founder and operator of Fire Talk Records as well as a member of the experimental trio Woodsman. On his own, though, he also records emotive ambient sounds as Gem Trails, a project with which he released a debut album this month. “It’s experiential music, not to be confused with experimental music,” he explained in an interview earlier this month. “As a listener and a creator it’s all about creating environments.”