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Pickled Priest Mixtape: Our Favorite New Songs of 2024, Volume #1


A small change in protocol this year. While the first mixtape of 2024 comes at the end of Q1 as usual, we're going to start making you a new music mixtape every time we have 26 new favorites to share with you. So expect new mixtapes more frequently this year than last. Here's the first batch. Normally, the first few months of the year are relatively quiet, allowing us time to catch up on our reading, lovemaking, and underwater pumpkin carving, but not this time. In fact, we had trouble limiting ourselves. That means we've already got half of the next tape in the pipeline already so stay tuned.



SIDE A



1 "Turn the Lights Back On" | Billy Joel

I don't think the haters even know why they are supposed to shit on Billy Joel, just that it's somehow cool to do so these days, but I come to his defense here and always. Did it all begin because of "We Didn't Start the Fire"? If so, people haven't done their homework. Yes, he's been outed as a bit of a dick over the years, but if you're going to piss on rock stars on those grounds, you're going to need to drink a shit ton of Sunny D because it's a long list. That said, I was fine with him shutting down his songwriting career for 17 years to focus on other things than selling records. There's nothing more impressive than someone knowing when to call it quits. Instead, he's played a steady gig at MSG, banked a bundle, lived off the interest, and took up underwater pumpkin carving on the side (not confirmed). This year, he finally emerged from his self-imposed sabbatical to give us a genuine Billy Joel classic, "Turn the Lights Back On," a return to form I feel comfortable placing next to my many favorites from his prime-time period. The main reason is because this isn't just another vacant pop song—it has a purpose, and a multi-faceted one at that. On the surface, it's about a neglected relationship, but there's also a career subtext, too. Will we take him back after all this time? Throughout the song, he's turning the metaphorical lights back on one lamp at a time, seeing what is gone forever, what is salvageable, and what has never left. He sings this as if there's something on the line for him and that drama comes through loud and clear. They always say showing up is half the battle, and as Billy sings "I'm late, but I'm here right now," I can't help but picture his round puppy dog face trying to make things right again after years of holding out on us.



2 "The Tower" | Future Islands

Fair or not, I listen to every song released by Future Islands wondering how singer Samuel T. Herring will present it in a live setting, be it on a late-night talk show (like his career-breaking Letterman performance) or a concert stage. He has a way of transforming the band's pulsating, synth-based songs with his intensely magnetic presence and "The Tower" is a prime target for another similar breakthrough. In a way, I see the song as a sequel of sorts to the band's biggest smash "Seasons (Waiting on You)" from 2014 (our #1 song from that year). This time, Samuel is still waiting for a distant love, an ocean between them now, but this time the details of their separation are beginning to emerge: When a boy who played with razors / Met a girl who opened cages / All the birds flew through the graveyard / And their laughter was contagious. I said details, I didn't say clarity. That you're never gonna get.



3 "Wild God" | Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds

I simply couldn't wait until August for Wild God, the album, to be released, so here's "Wild God" the song to tide us all over. I do hate the practice of releasing advance tracks many months prior to the formal album release, but it appears to be our new reality—so I'll let it be. Nick has stated in The Red Hand Files that the song comes from an "album of secrets," which means, like most Cave songs, it was never intended to be fully understood anyway, in or out of context. So here it is, in exile, and it's everything I could've hoped for. Nobody writes songs like Nick Cave. Who would have the hubris to even try the things he gets away with here? Answer: almost nobody. As always, some parts are impenetrable, pending a Cave commentary track, and some parts seem downright penetrable, but even those are subject to interpretation. "Wild God" itself provides us an outlandish plot to chew on that seemingly tracks the movements of a reckless deity, untethered from its original mission perhaps, apparently suffering from early-onset dementia. A day in the life of Nick Cave, in other words. Only from his pen could this moment crystalize:


Once upon a time, a wild God zoomed

All through his memory in which he was entombed

It was rape and pillage in the retirement village

But in his mind he was a man of great virtue and courage.


I've read much about Cave's relationship to God over the years, particularly in his latest book, Carnage, but there was nothing written that prepared me to interpret this specific passage. I have discerned his engagement with religion, like everything else he does, rarely follows conventional forms, but even with that awareness this is a lot to reconcile. Thankfully, there's a moment in the song's second half that ties the piece to a more conventional idea of religion, when we hear a gospel choir summoned the wild god back to Earth in dramatic fashion ("Bring your spirit down!"). It's a thrilling moment, one sure to be a concert highlight. August can't come soon enough.



4 "Prove it to You" | Brittany Howard

If you haven't been doing so already, it's officially time for you to acknowledge Brittany Howard as a major artist. We don't judge artists by record sales (or streams), only raw creativity, and very few can match her step for step in that department. She's so far ahead of others when it comes to managing the groove, it's almost easy to take her skills for granted on a song-by-song basis. Mainly, because she never settles on one style for long on her new album, What Now, and the full scope of her mastery only comes into focus as the entire album unfolds. That's why I chose the atypical "Prove It to You" to rep for the album—a propulsive, pulsating industrial house track that will pummel unsuspecting club kids over a booming sound system. Fucking domination in the short-term forecast. Brittany was amazing with Alabama Shakes and her first solo album, the highly personal Jaime, was a revelation, but her new album promises to take us places never anticipated before. Surely, Brittany doesn't even know where she's going next.



5 "Alibi" | Hurray for the Riff Raff

I rank Alynda Segarra with the most important artists in music today. I had no choice, really, as she's landed two consecutive records on my Top 10 Albums list (The Navigator in 2017 and Life on Earth in 2022) and her latest album with her New Orleans-based band Hurray for the Riff, The Past is Still Alive, will likely achieve the same heights, too. "Alibi" is a song about her father's death and the desire to put off the inevitable somehow. There are similar moments of heartbreak throughout the album, but beauty is never far behind, making some pretty tough revelations easier to swallow. The mark of a master songwriter.



6 "All in Good Time" | Iron & Wine ft. Fiona Apple

Whenever I see a collaboration like this I immediately worry that it's going to be less than the sum of its parts. Especially when two of my favorite and most respected artists pair up. I'm genetically hard-wired to protect myself from disappointment. No worries this time, though, because the song is set up perfectly for the two to trade verses. Sam Beam's status as one of America's best songwriters continues, whetting the appetite for a full-length to come. It'll be hard to top this initial single, which already sounds like a set-closing standard. I couldn't love it any more unless it came packaged in a dark chocolate and coconut album sleeve.



7 "Moonstruck" | Sheer Mag

Was anybody going to tell me that Sheer Mag sounds like the Jackson 5 now? I guess I have to rely on myself alone going forward. As it turns out, it's just for this one song, but that's enough. Little Michael could've made a #1 smash out of this back in the early 70s. Pretty fucking surprising, I've got to say.



8 "Y'Y" | Amaro Freitas

If you're like me, your record collection is painfully short on Brazilian jazz pianists. Well, I'm pleased to report Amaro Freitas's stunning new record will partially solve that issue. And, while you're at it, feel free to check off "British flautists" at the same time as this record has that angle covered, too. Suffice it to say, it's one of 2024's "You've gotta hear this!" albums, with Amaro on keys (and other instruments) and Pickled Priest favorite Shabaka Hutchings guesting on flute. Yes, flute. And when I say flute, I mean prominent Ian Anderson amounts of flute. Earlier this year, Hutchings announced he was shifting from sax to flute for the time being, which has got to rank with the strangest reasons ever for a formal "announcement." Not surprisingly, he's a fucking master at it. The way he and Freitas blend together on title-track "Y'Y" is remarkable. This is Amaro's show overall, but he knows when and who to call for creative support.



9 "Again" | Ghost Funk Orchestra

The concept for the album is a story about a woman stranded on Earth by her cosmonaut partner, left to ponder his whereabouts and whether or not he'll make it back from the cosmos alive.

-From Ghost Funk Orchestra's press kit


You can always count on the audio chemists in GFO to cook up something intriguing in the lab and their new high concept experiment is no exception. A Trip to the Moon combines snippets of NASA moonshot transmissions with groovy instrumental passages and killer guest vocals to create something approximating space-age bachelor pad soul music. The band has made their name by adding a cinematic scope to their sound and subsequently their new album has the feel of an aborted soundtrack to a long-shelved, unrealized film script. Which is what makes it so strangely entertaining. "Again," led off by some random communications between Houston command control and an Apollo mission (which one unknown), segues from a simmering soul ballad into a boiling, skronking belter of a love song thanks to the out-of-nowhere arrival of singer Romi Hanoch, who brings the song home with a powerful, jaw-dropping performance. If this doesn't bring home her lost cosmonaut lover, nothing will.



10 "Twenty Things" | Nadine Shah

You're supposed to love the sinner

and hate the sin

I loved them all

-Nadine Shah


That's how her mind works. The always interesting, totally original Nadine Shah strikes again with easily one of the best records of 2024, Filthy Underneath. The title infers she's not afraid of to reveal her dark side and the record taps into that vibe regularly, particularly on "Twenty Things" whose conceptual hook is "Twenty of the worst things that I can think." Nadine, you do not want to go toe-to-toe with me on this subject. I can go there, and it ain't gonna be pretty. But I love that she's open to such a challenge. Even more impressive is that she takes on such content without losing a steadfast dedication to the groove while she does it.



11 "Emergence" | The Messthetics and James Brandon Lewis

Inspired pairing #3 on this mixtape features the legendary Fugazi rhythm section, Joe Lally and Brendan Canty, alongside notable avant-garde D.C. guitarist Anthony Pirog, doing their jazzy-punk business as the Messthetics, this time with added special guest saxophonist and flautist,* James Brandon Lewis, who is rightfully top-line billed on the project. His work here is nothing short of brilliant at all times. I hope he makes this trio a quartet permanently, but I'm not betting on it. "Emergence" is the song that made me scramble to the record store to pick up a vinyl copy. It checks every box I have and even made me hand draw a few new boxes which I subsequently checked. Please, just give this out-of-the-box record a fair listen.


*Our second sax/flute player on this mix alone! (See song #8) How pretentious are we! Yeehaw!



12 "Hall & Oates" | Idles

Idles singer Joe Talbot—known for his brash, manly growl likely honed while watching football in loud English pubs—explains that "Hall & Oates" is a love song, but not in the traditional sense. It's about the joyous feeling of finding a new friend, one that seems custom made just for you. When you meet anyone special, romantic or not, there's always a honeymoon period where you feel like you're living inside a jaunty pop song as you walk down the street—your life has just changed for the better. So what song would soundtrack that moment for you?I must admit I'm deliriously pleased to hear that for Joe it's Hall & Oates.



13 "Square" | Rick Rude

This Dover, New Hampshire, band is unfortunately named after legendary WWF wrestler "Ravishing" Rick Rude,* but that's where the affiliation stops. In fact, the name could throw people off, some expecting a ham-fisted band of meatheads willing to suspend disbelief for hours at time in exchange for dumb scripted entertainment. Not the case, thankfully. The band turns out to be way more complex and challenging than that. A triple-threat if you will—strong male vocalist, fabulous female vocalist, and a crack band behind both. In fact, I love the band's guitar attack so much I've chosen one of two instrumentals from their new album, Laverne, to represent the group here. Both "Square" and the fabulously-titled "Area Woman Yells at Junk Mail" are dead serious rock and roll tracks, both featuring amazing post-punk guitar work that leave shards of guitar strings in their wake. These are guitar-based songs you haven't quite heard before. Not sure how they did it, but I'm loving what they're laying down.

*The band's first album included a song titled "Ravishing," no less.



SIDE B



14 "Dancing in Babylon" | MGMT ft. Christine and the Queens

The fourth inspired pairing on this mix finds slightly off-kilter pop masterminds MGMT (America) and Christine and the Queens (France), split by an ocean, ably teaming up to deliver, what else, a perfectly imperfect little pop ballad. If mainstream pop isn't your bag, try this. If it is your bag, try this.



15 "I'm Lying" | Vera Sola

The only girl who could ever reach me was the daughter of a Ghostbuster man. First the inevitable trivia: Vera Sola is Dan Aykroyd's daughter, Danielle. But this isn't a nepo-baby project, that's for sure. Her natural talent would've eventually surfaced regardless. We fell in love with her gorgeous new record not knowing her lineage because she has a stunning voice and clever songwriting. Every song is a standout for different reasons, but "I'm Lying" is the perfect entry point. Accessible, but just outside the box. She may be lying to you, or maybe she's not. Only one way to find out.



16 "El Saber (Dusk Version)" | Gaby Moreno

We've been big fans of Gaby since we belatedly first noticed her back in 2016 upon the release of her Top 50 list-making LP, Ilusión. Since then, she's been on a roll. She also made our Top 20 Songs of 2019 list with a duet from ¡Spangled!, a record she made with famed Beach Boys collaborator, Van Dyke Parks. This Guatemalan girl, now with her feet in L.A., doesn't like to stick in one lane is basically what I'm saying. Her latest album spends more time on English songs than usual, which is fine by me, but I've still fallen for "El Saber" (parenthetically identified as the "Dusk Version," but there is no "Dawn Version" or similar present), one of the Spanish cuts from the record. And it's a drop-dead beauty, too. I could listen to her croon in my ear all day long, well past dusk.



17 "Walking Alone" | Delgres

Guitar, drums, and tuba (in lieu of bass) are featured on Promis le Ciel, the third album of French creole blues and Caribbean soul by the amazing and criminally unknown Delgres. If that combination of influences intrigues you in the least, know that I'm still only scratching the surface, with tastes of Brazil, Cuba, Africa and even British rock and roll also in the recipe. That may sound like a lot of ground for one album, but they seamlessly blend them all into a cohesive package. "Walking Alone" is as good a place to start as any. I'm in love with these guys.



18 "Down By the Stream" | Yard Act

The Hold Steady has had a much longer shelf-life than initially expected mainly because people love Craig Finn's storytelling. Depending on the song, he can be funny, melancholic, philosophical, and even sarcastic, usually more than one at a time. He has the rare talent of being able to pull you in no matter the subject. James Smith, singer/speaker of Leeds-based band, Yard Act, does the same thing. I imagine he's as naturally compelling in routine conversations as he is when delivering songs of considerable depth like "Down By the Stream," from the band's new album, Where's My Utopia? There are other songs on the record that are more fun and contain more quotable lyrics, but few bring the powerful moments of self-realization that can be found here as Smith admits to and asks absolution for being a bully in his younger years. At the end when he says, "Jesus Christ, I never meant to hurt anyone," it's a powerful moment, and it takes this band to another level in the process.



19 "Collect" | Torres

And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts

And I looked, and behold a pale horse

And his name that sat on him was death, and hell followed with him

"When the Man Comes Around"—Johnny Cash


Torres, aka Mackenzie Scott, has always had the ability to conjure raw intensity seemingly out of thin air. "Collect" is a song about poetic justice and here she sounds like nothing short of the Grim Reaper ready to hunt down her next victim for being selfish, narcissistic, and deceitful. Sound like anyone you know? When she rides in to "collect" her next soul during the last 30 seconds, I guarantee you you'll get the same satisfaction you got when Charles Bronson finally got his revenge for his wife and daughter in Death Wish.



20 "Say It Like You Mean It" | Sleater-Kinney

I love how Sleater-Kinney is evolving over time, as good now as they ever have been, but in a completely different way. Especially Corin who has, by necessity, found nuances and vulnerabilities in her powerful voice that allow a whole new breed of songs to come into the band's repertoire. I can't imagine her pulling off the quiet desperation of "Say It Like You Mean It" back in the 90s. The life experience just wasn't there yet. The song is positively gut-wrenching, beyond the understanding of someone much younger. It captures one of those moments when you so need some acknowledgement, but just can't get it. I don't watch these videos in most cases, but this one lured me in. It features Succession's brilliant J. Smith-Cameron (Gerri), who captures the emptiness of not being seen, appreciated, or understood with a subtle, but emotionally crushing performance.



21 "Daydream Repeat" | Four Tet

Electronic mastermind Kieran Hebden, the man behind the revered and groundbreaking Four Tet, knows how to inject some real humanity into his glitchy compositions, which is not a given considering his chosen genre. Hence, his enduring stature as he approaches 50-years of age in what one would presume to be a young person's game. Au contraire, and "Daydream Repeat" is a prime example of why his music has such staying power. A simple piano sample looped over a glitchy computer beat makes the whole affair seem somehow less clinical and precise. In fact, the entirety of his new record, Three, feels that way. You can play on repeat for hours without it overstaying its welcome. So lose yourself in it, just as the title of theis song implies.



22 "Remote Convivial" | Ches Smith

I'm preternaturally drawn to rhythm-keepers. Same as last year (a banner year for drummer-led projects), same as this year, same as next year. For me, the backbone of any good jazz band (and any band for that matter) is the pace setter, the groove guide, the pitter-patter professor, the high-hat headmaster, the boom boom broker. Enter New York-based Ches Smith and his new album, Laugh Ash, a thrilling, experimental jazz record, if that's really what it is. In fact, this is jazz for people who aren't down for the usual Sunday brunch jazz fare. Or jazz aficionados with a predilection for the avant-garde or progressive side of jazz. One could argue successfully that this isn't even jazz at all, that it's something completely different. "Remote Convivial" is the perfect example of what I'm talking about—it must be heard with an open mind to be appreciated. Oh, and the sax solo on the track? None other than the now ubiquitous James Brandon Lewis (see song #11 on this mix). The guy keeps good company.



23 "Cathedral City" | Ducks Ltd.

This jangle-pop duo calls Canada home, but one-half of the band is from England (raised in the US), which means nothing really as long as they're adept at kicking out high quality songs in one of our "pet" genres of music. That said, I'm not a pushover for any band with a Rickenbacker propped up onstage. They originally busted into my Top 10 Songs of 2021 list with the infectious "18 Cigarettes" (from album Modern Fiction) and now they're back with more of the same on "Cathedral City" from their new album Harm's Way. The good news for this band is that they're becoming even better songwriters, poets even, with a consistency that makes it much tougher to isolate a specific track to highlight. I particularly love this sound when it's paired with just the right kind of voice, and lead singer Tom McGreevy (originally from Blackpool, England) is a doppelganger for Australian pop legend, Paul Kelly, which doesn't hurt matters. What works Down Under seems to work in the Great White North, too. Jangle has no boundaries.



24 "First Smile Ever" | Cast

I like a band whose records have a distinct sound. Cast has always had a way of making their songs sound BIG and airy and bright ever since they emerged from Liverpool with debut All Change back in 1995. There's a feeling of confidence in their music that elevates even their most uninspired moments. While there are some of those on new album, Love is the Call, there are also a few dynamite Britpop singles strewn throughout, too, of a kind that defy the fact singer John Power is in his mid-50s at the moment. He sounds like a 20-year-old kid on most of these tracks, his unique voice preserved well over the years. "First Smile Ever" does reveal the perspective of an older and wiser songwriter, however, as John tries to find a reason to smile amid the repeating disappointments life can lay at your feet, usually compounded during your weakest moments.



25 "Rein It In" & "A Diagnosis" | Dancer

I can't think of another band that includes song introductions on their studio albums, but that's just one of the peculiar quirks I enjoy from this minimalist Scottish (Scottimalist?) band. Oh, I thought of another; great album title, 10 Songs I Hate About You. Very amusing. A stressful part of any new relationship (or it should be) is finding out your partner's music tastes little by little. Invariably, there will be a few potential "dealbreaker" songs or albums in their record collection you might have to overlook if the person checks most of your other boxes. For me, these questionable records can be hard to overcome. My first real girlfriend, for example, wanted to make "our" song an Elvis cover she adored ("Can't Help Falling in Love") by Canadian export Corey Hart (of "Sunglasses at Night" fame). It was a big ask, but in the end I buckled. At that age, you'll basically allow anything to get some action. But I digress. The members of Dancer have a sly sense of humor, too. Example: "When I Was a Teenage Horse." Yes, I am going to listen to a song with that title 100% of the time. I also love this chosen duo of songs, lumped together here for continuity reasons since they are both introduced by singer Gemma Fleet at one time due to the fact the first segues directly into the next: "Rein it In" followed by "A Diagnosis"... I hope this becomes the band's trademark going forward. So, lots of informational snippets here, but in the end consider this a potential play for Pickled Priest at this time. There's something special here even if it's in the early stages. Let's see where it all goes.



26 "Bye Bye" | Kim Gordon

Somebody should tell Kim that reading her pre-travel to-do list doesn't cut it as the basis for a song, but it still kinda works though, doesn't it? There's nothing she can't pull off, it seems. Although Kim, have we all not seen enough sitcoms and movies where the TSA pulls out a vibrator from someone's luggage and parades it in front of everyone else waiting in line? Rookie travel mistake.



Outro: "Lil Birdie" | DJ Harrison

We fade out with a snazzy cover of the Vince Guaraldi gem "Little Birdie" (title stylized here) from the underrated A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special from 1973. It's a song that has retained its blue cool over time, so DJ Harrison didn't need to do much to update it for a new era--some modern electronics, a little nob-twiddling, and that's it. Taking such a charming little tune and fucking with it would've been an affront to the timelessness of the song, which I have nostalgic affection for because "Little Birdie" was my nickname in elementary school. We had a tall kid that looked a little like me who was dubbed "Big Bird" and since I was shorter, well you get the logic. So, in other words, I'm highly protective of the song. Added note: Woodstock, the "little birdie" celebrated here, was named after the legendary music festival, where cartoonist Charles Schulz famously dreamed up Snoopy's best pal during a bad trip after failing to heed promoters warnings to "not to take the Charlie Brown acid" going around the festival grounds.*


*Last part not confirmed, but the rest is true.


____________________________________


Listening once won't cut it with these songs, so now that you're at the bottom, I suggest you go back to the top of the slide, where you can stop and turn and go for another ride till you get to the bottom and then I will see you again. Only then will I bid you adieu.


Cheers,


The Priest


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