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Our Favorite Songs of July 2021

. 17 min read
Our Favorite Songs of July 2021

At the flip of every calendar page, our Music contributors take the time to write about their favorite tracks released during the last month. We are happy to see contributors, new and old, weigh in on genres as disparate as khroniky captured in the Carpathian mountains and sound art produced in New York City bedrooms. In fact, this month’s roundup is super-international—with artists from more than 13 countries represented—and sonically heterodox, with sounds that range from bubblegum to boiler room.

Yes, there is something for everybody in this veritable smorgasbord of a roundup. Don’t see your favorite musical food on this monthly spread? Write to our editors with your comments, critiques, and hot tips.

It's a happy coincidence that our most global-list yet is out the weekend this year's stinky, racist Olympics are coming to a close. (LaidOff Olympics coming soon!)

Want to contribute to next month’s list? See our call for submissions at the bottom of this post.

The music video for “Signal From The Noise”—the 9-minute lead single from BADBADNOTGOOD’s Talk Memory, out October 8th on XL Recordings and Innovative Leisure—opens with a close-up shot of “Lonely Man” Steve Stamp’s face as he duct-tapes headphones to his head and directs his pale blue eyes past the camera in a look that conveys longing and determination in equal measure. It’s a slowish opening shot that would find itself at home in the visual universe of Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 Solaris. And indeed, if the opening directorial brilliance of Duncan Loudon’s music video calls to mind the solitary journey of a Soviet man sent to fix a haunted, decades-old space station, so too does the musical unravelling of BBNG’s newest release, which tastefully deploys synthesis, tape manipulation, noise, distortion, and a variety of other timbral goodies to guide us through 9:09 of spacetime. —Rapha Grumser

Pre-order Talk Memory here.

It’s Just Wind, a collaborative album between Ade Hosford and his son, who performs as Connan Mockasin, is easily the most interesting project the younger Hosford has released since his 2011 debut, Forever Dolphin Love. “Clifton,” the slow, spacey jam that brings the record to its close, is far from its richest or most interesting song, but it’s the one that’s stuck with me the most after a few weeks on the shelf. Maybe it’s the quiet simplicity of Connan’s arrangement (not a quality he’s ever been known for), or maybe it’s the way Ade settles into it like Tom Waits sitting down at a piano.

“Clifton” is a homoerotic love song, an acid trip across the New Zealand countryside, an impressionistic ode to a boy Ade went rode to school with “in the 750s...on an N-Zed-R bus”—tranquil and wistful and heartbreaking all at once. —Raphael Helfand

Buy It’s Just Wind here.

Foodman, the man without a scene, is back. Years ago, I wrote about IKEIKE for the now-defunct United Cassettes blog. To quote myself, that was 2016 Foodman “smoking cigs in front of the club.” After subsequent releases on Orange Milk, Patient Sounds (RIP), Drag City, Mad Decent, and now, Hyperdub, Foodman has been all up inside the club, getting sweaty at the front right speakers, accidentally dissociating a little too hard in the bathroom lounge area, recovering with a warm bath and a walk through nature. Now it’s 2021, and he’s back (or he’s somewhere) tapping out staccato rhythms on pans, wooden boxes, small tin boxes, and whatever else can be snapped to a midi grid. “Parking Area” introduces new elements to the Foodman toolkit that expand the edges of his playable universe ever so slightly. The Lil Peep-core guitar that opens the track rapidly warps to wrap itself around the tips and taps of a classic Foodman drum pattern. This goes on for about a minute; then the guitar uncoils itself, pitches back down, and ends where it started but a little further along. —Ben Shear

Buy Yasuragi Land here.

Fickle mechanics compel change; when speaking of organic processes, it is true repetition will produce result.

To be a burnished crystal, spinning and refracting. We turn and turn and turn beyond the smooth blend of dizziness. In times of dissonance we tend to seek a steady force, and what is more reliable and delicious than a limit, a boundedness?

On "clarity," the first single from her upcoming EP and the latest instalment of RVNG Intl.’s THERE series, New York sound artist Rachika Nayar captures the luxuriant possibilities of a bedroom-oriented practice. Loops pulse and bloom and glisten, beckoning us into the present and no further. In contrast to the magnificent scope of her debut album, Our Hands Against the Dusk, fragments is several snapshots of unfettered process, each song expanding in its own small and quiet way. —Nina Posner

Preorder fragments here.

Anika’s first ~solo~ album in a decade is at its best when it’s at its darkest. Change’s optimistic title track is disappointingly boomerish considering how unbreakably cool Anika seemed when Geoff Barrow (Portishead, BEAK>) ~discovered~ her in late-aughts Berlin. But do not fear, aging hipsters of the world; she’s still got it. On “Sand Witches,” she’s the same ice queen who brought a chilling irony to one of The Kinks’ warmest, most earnest tracks. And this time around, she’s got caustic lyrics to match her dark energy.

Over a droning synth that would swallow a lesser singer whole, Anika channels real-life witch-vampire Jenny Hval, reciting a spoken-word incantation that unfurls slowly, like a snake waking from a long sleep. “Say it a—” she begins, nearly summoning the devil himself within her first breath. Emotionless, she keeps the contents of her cauldron at a low simmer, stirring in new motifs—mother’s tongue, “the sense of it all,” rivers, cities, loss—as she sleepwalks through the song. A honky-tonk piano arpeggiates above the drone, accompanied by what sounds like a muffled scream as the track quietly crescendos to its muted climax. When the synth cuts out, the keys hang in the air a moment too long and then halt abruptly when Anika mumbles a spell, dragging us unceremoniously into an upbeat pop track as if everything we’ve just heard was only in our heads. —RH

Buy Change here.

“All the Time,” the first song on Banoffee Pies White Label Series 01—a collaborative 12” between jungle/D‘n’B artists Tim Reaper and Comfort Zone—is a charming homage to the renowned "Think" break. The track opens with the break on its own. 12 seconds in, a shimmering synth pad splashes down like a pebble thrown into a river, creating a ripple. The ensuing waves, however, are spread wide not by this chord, but by the familiar backing beat. None of the myriad of sounds found on “All the Time”—flute notes, sax arpeggios, glistening digital FX—ever overtake the drums.

The “Think” break is sampled from Lyn Collins’ 1972 song “Think (About It).” Nearly fifty years later, Reaper and Comfort Zone respond: A soulful vocal sample that goes “Think about it / all the time” appears throughout “All the Time,” unashamedly signaling that the break is always on their mind. Are they speaking only for themselves, or for the entire hardcore community? In the same way Kurt Cobain’s journal entries showed indie heads Scratch Acid and The Vaselines,  TR and CZ are taking a moment here to teach the youngins on Soundcloud and Bandcamp a piece of the rich history of a genre that is criminally under-historicized. They certainly taught me. —Andrew Burton

Buy Banoffee Pies White Label Series 01 here.

Tobacco City is a good band on its way to becoming a great band, and this is the record that will bring them there. This version of “LSD” is a re-release—and maybe a remaster—of an earlier version that real heads will recall as a highlight of the group’s first release. Unlike a lot of songs by Chicago bands that reference “LSD,” this one is not about lake shore drive; it’s a fried country song about doing acid in a park with your friends on the 4th of July. The slide guitar smells like summer and the vocal harmonies sound like they are wafting up to street level from a sweaty basement rehearsal session off Potomac or some other side street branching off the park. It’s 2019; it’s 1974; fuck it, it’s timeless. —BS

Buy Tobacco City, USA here.

Third summer of love? Second summer of chillwave? First summer of bib sama.? Last liveable summer? Who cares?!

I was just in LA and it was still there. There weren’t many signs of doom, save 42 dry riverbeds. Back in Missouri, I decided to do something nice and drive the limestone bluffs on the Illinois River.

In my rearview mirror, two cars weave on the open causeway.

Looking forward, there’s snaking bronze water, hawks circling and a factory stack pouring smoke into clouds, because rivers are meant for industry. Looking back, there’s a young guy hanging out of the window of the second car, the one in back, and he throws something heavy (plastic?) at the car in front. The driver of the front car rolls down his window and flips the bird, screaming silent curses. A gun emerges from the driver’s side window of the tailing car. The two cars whip off the road and disappear into the bluffs. I’m busy working through a Joni Mitchell song. After the Ladies of the Canyon and Blue, Court and Spark is difficult.

I’m not sure I’d like to retain this memory. Like most North American memories, it’s a loopy combination of sublime vistas, cheugy industry, and violence. But, it’s true: these things really do live in your head lyk lice!! The song’s humid, smoggy aura, complete with baile funk rhythms and warbling organ, captures a cresting “this is fine”-pilled sentiment. Bib sama. is British, but he captures a global, generational sensation, like being whipped around on a carousel at the end of the world. —Justin Enoch

Lorde is, I truly believe, all-powerful. At the very least, she has control over the weather (or a very well-timed release schedule, if you want to be cynical about it). She announced the end of lockdown and the beginning of summer with “Solar Power,” and just when we were all getting a bit too excited about our newly-regained freedom, she told us it was “Time to cool it down / Whatever that means” on “Stoned At The Nail Salon.” This may be months of isolation talking, but the new single from New Zealand’s very own self-proclaimed “prettier Jesus” is a sensory experience for me. It’s calming to the point of stillness, a moment of reflection amidst the chaos.

Here, Lorde has managed to create something that is as grounding as it is dreamy because it’s rooted in truth. She may be “just stoned at the nail salon,” but her nostalgic musings—I wonder sometimes what I’m missing”—are relatable to anyone who has had a “what if?” moment. This song reminds us to take a moment and appreciate the things close to us, and to indulge those fleeting thoughts that life doesn’t give us time to fawn over. —Martha Cleary

Pre-order Solar Power here.

There are times when I long for ambient comforts. When these times come, I may seek out works like Morton Feldman’s “Rothko Chapel 5”, or Laurel Halo’s “Raw Silk Uncut Wood,” or even—if said longing arrives in its extreme form—a 10 hour Youtube loop of a meditative monkey in a hot spring set to Aphex Twin’s “Stone in Focus”.

Should my longing for said ambient comforts be coupled with a desire for vocal music, however, I might reach for Voces8’s cover of Slow Meadow’s “Helium Life Jacket.” Here, the acclaimed British choral outfit is augmented by two vibraphonists who sustain notes with bows, translating the  plucky and atmospheric original from the grid to the chapel. Voces8’s version has been released in anticipation of their forthcoming album, Infinity, due on August 27th via Decca Classics. —RG

Pre-order Infinity here.

Bbymutha and Zeloopers are two of the best, most slept-on artists in the cosmos, and when they work together they can do no wrong. Over a slick, simple beat by rock floyd, they trade bars like old sparring partners. Their friendly exhibition—on the four-track CHERRYTAPE, the stakes are low—yields plenty of gold nuggets, such as “He gon’ slit his wrist on my thorns tryna water my rose / He say he don’t love no hoes like he don’t know he the hoes” (delivered in Bbymutha’s perfectly paced Tennessee drawl) and “N—— tell stories like Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em / Gave her a Laffy Taff, she yellin’ / Get money by any means like felon / Tell the po to free my brethren'' (rapped in Zelooperz’ jerky, madcap cadence and accented with a couple of playful background YUUUUUs for added effect). If these lyrics aren’t jumping off the page at you, it’s probably because you’re reading them in my boring-white-guy voice. Probably better just to hit play. —RH


I’ve been watching some TikToks about Aaron Dilloway’s Modern Jester. The existence of such videos opens a whole conversation about the flattening of music via streaming, clout, algorithms, and taste that I can’t get into now, but it’s one worth having at some point.

Dilloway and Lucrecia Dalt linked up somewhere in Madeira and formed a deep artistic friendship that resulted in this phenomenal entry in the “album to get your friend into noise music” catalog. Much of Dilloway’s solo work is harrowing, intense, and deeply disturbing. Dalt, on the other hand, consistently releases fantastic experimental electronic albums that have approximately one “banger” per release.

Lucy & Aaron is a rare instance of a collaboration that brings out the best in both artists. I might even go so far as to label it an instant classic. Somewhere in the future, there is a wiry kid seated behind a large mixing console in a dingy college radio station slotting “Niles Baroque” between something scary and something fun. Throughout the album, Dilloway’s tape manipulations and Dalt’s synth and vocal work weave a series of sonic emissions that gesture equally to the light and the dark. It’s a tummy ache, but in a fun way.

“Niles Baroque” best represents the integration of the two artists’ respective practices. The track opens in classic Dilloway fashion with a low, looping, queasy squelch that sounds like it might be a mouth-sound—which should come as no surprise to anyone who’s witnessed him shoving contact mics down his throat and flailing like an electric chair victim—but then something strange happens.  A light, clear voice enters the mix, resting atop the churning tape and outlining the bare bones of a melody. 45 seconds in, a light synth tone enters, and we are in hitherto unexplored territory. Dalt’s singing transforms into a chant of sorts, as soothing as it is menacing. A percussive clatter like a slamming toolbox ends that little reverie and takes us to pure Dilloway zones for the back half of the track as a measured but unintelligible garble of speech buries itself in the whirring of a dusty tape machine. —BS

Buy Lucy & Aaron here.

When most world citizens hear “Guantánamo,” they think of American war crimes. But beyond the U.S. army base and detention camp on the Bay, the Guantánamo province is a wellspring of sound. Taking the old adage that Cuban culture starts in the east as gospel, Italian record producer and radio host Gianluca Tramontana started visiting the island nation’s Oriente region in the ‘90s. He became obsessed with changüí, a music and lifestyle that’s existed there since the late 19th century but has received little exposure outside its immediate surroundings.

Ethnomusicologists have struggled to place changüí in the context of earlier styles such as nengón and kiribá and later ones such as son, which made the journey west to Havana and gave us Cuban salsa and the Buena Vista Social Club. But Tramontana is less interested in parsing semantics than capturing the spirit of this generally improvised, call-and-response form played at three-day marathon festivals in the mountain villages surrounding Guantánamo City. At the end of July, he released a 51-track, three-disk box set of the recordings he’d taken in the region along with a 120-page booklet that visually and narratively documents the stories of the various groups he encountered.

Grupo Changüí de Guantánamo’s “Hazlo Como Yo” (“do it like me”) epitomizes the joyful, playful, braggadocious nature of changüí. Fast-paced and kinetic, it stays close to its theme but never stands still, layering throaty vocals on tres guitar ostinatos on plucked maríimbula basslines on dizzying polyrhythms slapped and stroked into bongos and auxiliary percussion. It’s a sound that can only be found in one place in the world, recorded in its natural environment, as close to its roots as most of us will ever get. —RH

Buy CHANGÜÍ—The Sound of Guantánamo here.


Bladee hits the club with Varg and they CEASE 2 EXIST in any real way, but they are out there, clubbing, taking care of business, and making hits. I don’t have anything more to say about Bladee at this point. All I can do is sit in my little cube sending guest lists for luxury travel adventures, restarting this track every 3 minutes and 4 seconds, like a good worker. —BS

Buy SHINIE here.

Kieran Press-Reynolds starts his p4k review of SVG1—the collaborative debut album by the amorphous post-BK-drill collective known as Surf Gang—with a shoutout to a show the group threw at the end of June in a massive Williamsburg bus-and-truck lot. I’m proud to say I was at that show too (on a hot tip from an OG Laid Off contributor), and I feel it is my duty to confirm that it was, in fact, the coolest event I’ve attended in a very long time. It also made me feel older than I’ve ever felt at a show. The crowd was by and large a mix of high school and college kids, with me and a few other millennial cuspers hanging out a safe distance from the pit. I don’t recall seeing anyone visibly over 30. I’m happy to report that the kids are alright, and less happy to report that they dress better, dance better, and smoke much, much louder than I ever will.

SVG1 is best listened to straight through, at a volume that will capture about two thirds of your attention, leaving the rest of your brain free to study for the SATs or whatever. There are peaks and valleys, songs that rip from start to finish and songs that slip by without leaving an impression, partly because the production—from Evilgiane, Harrison and Eera—flows so smoothly that you barely notice when one track ends and another begins. Perks, Moh Baretta, Bobainee and Babyxsosa (the only female member of the core SG crew) add to this sense of seamlessness, bouncing off each other’s bars like they’ve been rapping together since they were in diapers.

Every rapper in the gang has a different personality: Baretta’s flow is as coked out as Perks’ is opiated, Sosa’s as bubblegum as Bobainee’s is gritty. But rather than chafe against each other on “Cindarella,” the album’s opener and its only bona fide posse cut, they act as perfect foils. Evilgiane, who contributes to 10 of 15 tracks and is probably SVG1’s MVP, if you had to pick one, smoothes out any vestigial rough edges between the four vocalists but leaves just enough harmonic and rhythmic dissonance to avoid sterilizing their performances.

Surf Gang is shiny and new but also substantive enough to stick around. Like Lil Yachty before he sold out and parted ways with his best friend Burberry Perry, this collective feels full of hope, but they’re more in touch with reality than he was, and blessed/cursed with a tinge of the nordic nihilism that has the world in its thrall right now. SVG1 is nowhere near the cultural event Lil Boat was, but perhaps that’s for the best: Child stars tend to burn out early, but heads stay heads forever. —RH

Buy SVG1 here.

Dióbél Kiadó, a label and blog based in Southern Hungary, has had quite a year so far. First with Mike NylonsEneme II—the second album in a planned trilogy—and now with the release of Képeshang mindenkinek, a compilation whose title I’m poetically translating to Acoustimages for everyone, Diobel has not only released interesting and thoughtful music but covetable objects as well.

The project itself is a speaker and audio player. It contains 13 images and their acoustic counterparts. The theme of this particular set is “interoperability”: shared expectations for the outcomes of multiple systems at work. Each of its featured artists has visited the acousmatic imaginary of their respective images and transposed the soundscapes from the seen to the heard. After all, sound has the potential to produce light in a process called sonoluminescence. You know that marble scene in Men in Black? The marble represents something frozen, a state of matter which we perceive to be the whole of everything. You might say then that images are frozen sounds, and that these artists have thawed them properly.

Kovacs Jonas, especially, delivers in a mysterious, shimmering way, arriving somewhere between solid states. The aptly titled “Palatető,” meaning a roof built from slate tiles, sighs like rain, finding rooftop rhythms in trickling melodies. Jonas’ melancholic condensate evaporates as quickly as it pours, past the image, to the imaginary, felt but not heard. —JE

Buy Képeshang mindenkinek here.

There’s a lot of downtime on DILO, an eerie set of field recordings taken by Rusyn-Slovakian filmmaker Lucia Nimcová and Scottish sound artist Sholto Dobie in the Ukrainian region of the Carpathian Mountains, which stretch south from Czechia to Serbia, dividing seven central European nations along the way. The duo first traveled there in 2014 to realize Nimcová’s dream of directing a “Ukrainian folk opera.” Over the course of three summers, they recorded the material that became Bajka (“tall tale”), a stripped-down series of stable shots that document singers and musicians, most of them women and most of them quite old, performing khroniky (“chronicles''), old standards passed down through generations in close-knit Rusyn communities.

On DILO, Dobie draws from the many hours of recorded sound—mostly unused in the 40-minute film—to translate an audiovisual narrative into an entirely sonic one. A long-time proponent and practitioner of non-linear music, he layers non-musical sounds recorded across time and place to give listeners a visceral impression of daily life in the Carpathian mountains without supporting imagery. Much like Kovacs Jones (see Justin’s blurb above), Dobie invites us into his “acousmatic imaginary.”

Khroniky can get quite raunchy (there’s a whole subgenre called potka strictly focused on vaginas), but they are often poignant as well. Some are just dirty jokes, but many contain coded messages that can be publicly passed between women—subversive advice between friends, shared trauma between sisters, life lessons from mothers to daughters—without raising the eyebrows of the men around them.

The lyrics to the short song in the first minute of “Sing for myself” are not printed in the album’s accompanying booklet, but in a forthcoming interview for another publication, Nimcová gave me the broad strokes. The song, which she and Dobie recorded after escaping upstairs from a baptism and arriving in the singer’s room, is a very old one, one she’s heard many times in her travels across the region. It’s a shared memory between Rusyn-Ukrainian women 85 and older, old enough to recall when the Nazis and the Red Army did battle in their homeland during World War II, each side committing horrible atrocities along the way. Many of these women (young girls at the time) were raped, kidnapped, and sent to gulags during these years, and most never received any formal education as a result. According to Nimcová, the singer’s words roughly translate as “I can’t write, I can’t read, but I survived.” It’s a triumphant song, and the singer laughs throughout her performance, drawing joy from pain like a flower through concrete. —RH

Buy DILO here.

There is not much I can say about São Paulo guitarist-composer Kiko Dinucci’s new 20-minute project that isn’t already expressed (more poetically) in his bi-lingual press release, which begins:

Fingertip, wood, strings, delay, magnetic tape: metal on metal, wood and iron, chemical elements that are extremely susceptible to the passage of time.

VHS is less an album than a temporal sculpture that uses the processed detritus of a manic acoustic guitar improvisation as its carving block. I listen to VHS the way I would admire a visual work: I encounter it in the middle of a room and walk around it. When there are others in the room, I bring my hand to my face in pensive intrigue. When I’m alone, I gawk at it. I stand up close and see the detritus. I admire its shaved wood bits, the way the light hits the structure and forms shadows around a plinth. I read the the artist statement, which continues:

VHS compression, which flattens the sound, the flatter mids. Deterioration of matter. Vein media, a lot of hiss…

I begin to consider the artist’s intentions: “What do they mean to say with all this deterioration and hiss? What can it mean?” These are stupid questions. The hiss doesn’t mean anything; it's just there in the room, taking up space, commanding attention. Consider the woodchipper! Fractures, fragments, sections, detritus, fingertip, wood, strings. The passage of time. I return to Dinucci’s words, which conclude:

But if he hadn't closed the hole with tape, he wouldn't be able to record on it and the cover would be different.

Thank God he closed the hole with tape. Or else he wouldn’t be able to record on it. And the cover would be different. Thank God he closed the hole with tape, because I like the cover just as it is. —RG

Buy VHS here.

*Thumbnail graphic by Jda Gayle

**The Spotify playlist (which we include reluctantly) does not include bib sama.'s "lyk lice!!", bbymutha's "WRIST." or Kovas Jonas' “Palatető"  because these songs aren't available to stream on the devil’s platform. As indicated above, they are all streamable elsewhere, and "WRIST." and “Palatető" are purchasable on bandcamp.