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Pickled Priest Mixtape: Our Favorite New Songs of Q2 2023, Part One

Yep. It happened last year, too. Q2 is normally loaded with great new music and 2023 is no different. So, to spread the love around, you get two mixtapes this quarter. Even then, all you get is a curated portion of the proceeds. Call it communion, if you like. One wafer at a time all adding up to a fucking Old Country Buffet teeming with new music communion wafers minus the disgusting slobs who grab shit with their hands and put stuff back that they've touched or sneezed on. That doesn't mean you won't hate some of it. But, here's the key: some of it ya won't.



01 "Pinking Shears" | Mandy, Indiana

Why We Like It

All hail the pinking shears, the most misunderstood cutting tool in the scrapbooking industry! They're not just for fabric anymore people. Actually, and unfortunately for you Hobby Lobbyists, the song is about how this filthy, disgusting world can grind you down to a bloody nub if you're not careful. Kinda how I feel if I spend more than 20-minutes in a Hobby Lobby, ironically. On the surface, though, the song plays as cool industrial post-rock even if you opt out of translating the French lyrics. Once you do, however, there's no turning back. It's a gloomy worldview. No wonder they originally named the band Gary, Indiana, after the smelly, factory-packed armpit of the American midwest that spawned Michael Jackson, the world's most celebrated pedophile. A place I've never been without immediately thinking, "How soon can I get out?" At the helm of the band is brilliantly-named lead singer Valentine Caulfield, who perfectly complements the song's belching, wheezing backdrop to thrilling effect on "Pinking Shears," not to mention the rest of their new album, I've Seen a Way.

02 "Nurse!" | Bar Italia

Why We Like It

I'm getting the buzz bands out of the way right off the bat this quarter so here's Bar Italia (which they stylize in lowercase, but I don't), another trendy London band whose name hints at a different origin story even though they actually cribbed it from Pulp's now rightfully deified Different Class album, which couldn't be more British if it tried. Bar Italia's new LP, Tracey Denim, is a bit overhyped at this point, but nonetheless, "Nurse!" is evidence of their potential, delivering all the pros and cons of hanging at a pretentious London nightclub through a hazy, inhibition-free 2:00 AM lens. The music just sounds cooler at that time of the night, people seem as interesting as they make themselves out to be, and most importantly, the drugs start working. It almost makes the artifice worth the trouble. On "Nurse!" Jezmi Fehmi and Sam Fenton trade disaffected boy/girl vocals that track with that physiological downshift you feel when you realize you've crossed over from youthful elation ("Haven't felt this way since you were 21") to feeling sick and tired, vomiting through your nose into a dustbin.

03 "True Life" | Water From Your Eyes

Why We Like It

The Brits do not have the market cornered on post-punk deadpan cool and Water From Your Eyes are proof that the US also has some quasi-pretentious artistes in residence. Do I even have to tell you they're from Brooklyn? The duo of Nate Amos (guitar shards) and Rachel Brown (blasé vox) pull off more than normally allowed around here, managing to soundtrack a loft party you won't actually be tempted to leave the first time the elevator hangs open for an abnormally long time. WFYE sound like low budget creatives that don't actually belong, but get invited anyway because their music captures just the highly specific disaffected vibe your snobby hosts are shooting for, but don't really understand.

04 "Eucalyptus" | The National

Why We Like It

Here's another downcast, moody National song to add to their ever-growing pile of likeminded sad-sack, rainy- day tunes and sometimes I wonder, to be honest, if I really need any more of them. I find myself forgetting the titles to their songs, unable to recall which came from what or when this happens and where. Do they ever get tired of feeling this way? Selfishly, if they're OK with it, so am I. I use them for my own discrete purposes and I feel just the way their music sounds more than I care to admit. They're a mood board, they're a feeling, they're a state of mind. And with so many variations on a theme built into the fabulously-titled First Two Pages of Frankenstein, I discover again that I'm nowhere near done buying their albums yet. "Eucalyptus" is about a dead relationship done by a band that sounds like the aftermath of a broken relationship on its best days and includes an unbearable moment when the couple begins the painful process of splitting up of a shared record collection. It's almost too much to bear.

05 "Taking Things for Granted" | Joy Oladokun

Why We Like It

What better endorsement for a record can there be than "It'll bring more joy to your life." This is one of those records and the fact her name is Joy is merely a delightful coincidence. But receiving the feeling of joy from a person named Joy doesn't mean all the songs are all joyful. I just appreciate when someone really puts their true self out there for the taking even if others may not be open to it. At least she's opened her heart. Will you take her up on her offer? That's exactly the tone of "Taking Things for Granted," where an 8-year-old kid invites everyone to her birthday party and nobody shows, a thread that gets stitched throughout the rest of her life. But when her music is created, clear and simple and joyous despite it all, you get the feeling she's finally finding her way. That's why this is joyful music for me

06 "Yada" | Fatoumata Diawara

Why We Like It

For those who follow African music no introduction is necessary to Malian singer/songwriter Fatoumata Diawara, whose songs are as rich and vibrant as the bright colors that appear on the cover of her great new record, London Ko. You'll notice upon looking at that same cover that she's also got a cherry red Gibson SG propped up against the wall and rest assured she's not afraid to use it. And use it she does on late-album highlight, "Yada," which stands out from several marquee guest-star collaborations (Damon Albarn, Angie Stone) earlier on the record thanks to some thrilling guitar work from Diawara, who is something of a quadruple threat it turns out (songwriting, voice, guitar, hair). There are so many highlights throughout the record, from the absolutely gorgeous "Mossayua" to the finger-snapping "Sete," each with their own charms and usually with some important messages to impart, but I get pumped when she just cranks out some meaty riffs now and then. But why settle for a single snapshot when you can have the whole photo album? Take it all in. One of the records of 2023 so far.

07 "That! Feels Good!" | Jessie Ware

Why We Like It

It took me a while to get just the right inflection, but I think I've finally found the best way to say this double-exclamation song title. What makes me feel good? That! That makes me feel good! How does that feel? "Feels good!" And one sure way to take you to your pleasure center is this dance floor dynamo from Jessie Ware's new disco album that nobody knew they needed until they heard it, including me. The record is absolutely loaded with contemporary disco informed by the past performed at the highest level (no, not high on cocaine, but now that you mention it...) The rest of the song sounds like it was lifted straight from the soundtrack of cult disco film Thank God It's Friday* albeit with Jessie in place of Donna Summer in the starring role. I recommend checking your inhibitions and reservations in the coat room and giving yourself up to the irresistible vibe laid down here. As Jessie so convincingly tells us all, "Pleasure is a right!"

*A movie I actually saw in the theater as a young lad in 1978, just one year before Chicago DJ Steve Dahl staged Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park in between games of a double-header with the Detroit Tigers. Bad movie, but I still liked it.

08 "Protocol" | El Michels Affair & Black Thought

Why We Like It

Great development: Black Thought collaborating with other artists in his off hours from the Roots' regular gig as Jimmy Fallon's house band on The Tonight Show (a total waste of time and talent in my opinion, but a fabulous paycheck presumably). And this time, Thought has hooked up with El Michels Affair, a thick-bottomed band that has been seriously getting around lately like they're Khruangbin or something. The resulting album turns out to be yet another winner from a rapper who can seemingly do no wrong. Remember that only last year he hit #12 on my Top 50 Records of 2022 list with Cheat Codes, his project with Danger Mouse. Here he is again just months later with Glorious Game, another inspired pairing with a band seemingly tailor-made to provide backing beds for innovative rap songs. El Michels Affair is a group led by Big Crown Records founder Leon Michels and everything his label kicks out is worth hearing whether it's new or reissued. Glorious Game is no exception—a musical alliance made in heaven. "Protocol" is just one example of the chemistry the two bring to the studio, with El Michels contributing the cool groove and Black Thought the verses that run circles around most of his competition. He's one of, if not thee best and he even explains why: I fell in love with the language like a hopeless romantic.

09 "Virgo" | Meshell Ndegeocello

Why We Like It

She was a highly-respected, serious artist before, but she's on Blue Note Records now, so the shit has got to be next level this time. And you know she delivers. In this case, with The Omnichord Real Book, a 70-minute-plus declaration of creative freedom that never settles on one style for long. Few labels, on signing alone, seem to elevate their artists to a higher plane than the revered jazz label and lately they've been pushing the borders of what a Blue Note artist can be and sound like thanks to current President, and musical chameleon in his own right, Don Was. This is Meshell's show, though, and although I'm not fully done digesting it, it doesn't take a keen ear to understand that "Virgo" is the album's centerpiece, a vital and thrilling artistic statement that grounds itself in some of the legendary tenets of Blue Note while taking advantage of the modern bent of the current label that offers and encourages boundless artistic exploration. Adding Ndegeocello to their roster was a brilliant move and she proves more than up to the challenge. Glad to have her back again doing original material. A Pickled Priest favorite!

10 "Let It Go" | Steve Mason

Why We Like It

I will now sell zero copies of Steve Mason's new album, Brothers & Sisters. I hope that's not true, but if you're not yet a fan of Mason, who is best known for being the co-founder and singer of Scotland sound merchants, the Beta Band, you may never be. That's a shame because although the trendspotters who certified The Three EPs compilation as supremely cool back when it was released in 1998 have long since moved on, Mason has continued making fabulous music with the same hypnotic, throbbing, laid-back grooves that made him famous. He hasn't lost a step either although his platform is not a novel sounding as it once was. That said, Mason is still creatively restless and he's delivered some of his most rhythmically challenging grooves ever for his new record. "Let It Go" is a headphone marvel, bringing back that old Beta Band stoned head bob, but also sounding distinctly modern, too. I know when it's Steve Mason time, and it's usually after a trip to the local dispensary.

11 "Phone" | Anna St. Louis

Why We Like It

She grew up in Kansas City with the last name St. Louis, moved to L.A. where her Laurel Canyon sound seemed a perfect match for her new surroundings, but then tired of the L.A. grind and recorded her superb new album, In the Air, in upstate New York. The girl gets around. With all those miles under her belt, she has clearly found her musical identity it seems. The word "natural" comes to mind when considering her music. If the record was an object, it would be a cup of hot coffee. If the record was a time, it would be early morning. If it was a place, it would be a front porch. It wouldn't make sense to assign a geographical location to her music anyway since she's always on the move. So wherever you are, play "Phone" and let it work its organic magic.

12 "Lord Have Mercy" | Durand Jones

Why We Like It

I'm a fan of Durand Jones' rich soulful voice that can sing just about anything, but for some reason his recorded work hasn't consistently captured what I sensed was there for the taking. In earlier singles, he brought a much tougher vocal sound, almost Wilson Pickett-esque at times, but he then took a turn into smooth soul, light funk, and occasionally drifted into an early Motown vibe. All fine and good, but although there were flashes of brilliance, it wasn't quite my bag. His new solo LP, Wait Til I Get Over, changes that impression. It's is a highly personal passion project, like he had something to say and figured he needed to give the Indications, his longtime band, the record off. All indications are that he made the right move (you think I can't shoot a layup?).

If any record mandates getting the vinyl version, it's this one. You want to enjoy every rough edge, every masterful vocal performance, every thick bassline. This is the Durand Jones I've been waiting for. He's sounds inspired, purposeful, and invested. "Lord Have Mercy" evidences a power I've hoped to witness, raw and spiritual simultaneously, and is only one moment of many on his new record that'll drop your jaw.

13 "On My Own" | Peter One

Why We Like It

The second Ivory Coast product in the first thirteen songs (the other being Fatoumata Diawara, who was born there), clearly a Pickled Priest first. Sixty-seven-year-old Peter One's new album, Come Back to Me, ranks among my favorite discoveries of 2023 so far. What a charming, unassuming joy this record is! It might take a bit for it to settle into the cracks of your life, but I think you'll eventually feel the simple power of his music before long like I did. You can feel a palpable sense of joy, maybe relief, as these songs emerge. Like most people, I knew nothing of him prior to this year. Likely because he's been working in a Nashville nursing home for the last 30 years without once mentioning his past life as a popular musician in his home country. To oversimplify, he left his birthplace due to political turmoil and violence and eventually settled down in Nashville, where he found work to survive. Now his music finally gets to be heard. His songs combine an African feel with strains of American music (country, blues) weaved together to create a very original hybrid, only accentuated by his high, brittle voice. His story is amazing, his music cuts right to your core. When you listen to "On My Own" with knowledge of his story don't be surprised if you shed a tear or two.


14 "More Lies From the Government" | The Black Watch

Why We Like It

You gotta like a band (actually just John Andrew Frederick and a rotating supporting cast) with a sharp sense of humor and Santa Barbara, California's Black Watch have a particularly healthy attitude regarding their inability to break through to the mainstream. They named their career-spanning compilation 31 Years of Obscurity: The Best of the Black Watch and titled another album Led Zeppelin Five. So they're witty, which is something we appreciate around here. They also write consistently well-crafted songs with a little Britpop slant, none of which have ever fit with the current popular music zeitgeist. No matter, they have a rabid cult audience (including Big Takeover magazine publisher Jack Rabid) which has sustained them over a 20-album (give or take) run that started back in 1988. I was all set to represent for the band by picking a selection from their latest record, 2023's Future Stranger, an understated gem, but then they went ahead and dropped the killer single "More Lies From the Government" and that forced me to alter my plans. It's just too good to ignore. It sounds like something that could've come out of Manchester in the late-80s. Plus, it takes a poke at modern government, so that only ups the pleasure for me.

15 "Su Suziyor" | Atlin Gün

Why We Like It

A band updating late-60s/eary-70's Turkish psychedelic instrumentals with a modern flair is a mixtape makers wet dream come true and sure enough, this is just the right sound when you need to inject something completely different into the mix to cleanse the palate. Make no mistake, this isn't a novelty act, just a group that sounds unlike anything out there at the moment. When they hit on one of their many exotic grooves, as they do on the almost Bollywood-esque "Su Suziyor," the results are original and thrilling in equal doses.

16 "Waile" | WITCH

Why We Like It

While we're tapping into our international network for some exotic psych workouts let's go with one more dynamite track, this time from Zambia's WITCH (an acronym for We Intent to Cause Havoc), who are one of the most popular Zambian rock bands ever (known as "Zamrock" for short). They've been around since the 70s (with a long hiatus starting in the mid-80s) and they've seen a surge of popularity lately due to sudden interest in their early records. To capitalize, they now have a new record in 2023. But is the magic still there? Answer: a resounding yes! As you might expect with such a long-lived group, only one of its original members remains, but the crucial one, thankfully. Bandleader Jagari Chanda guides a group of new members all intent on carrying the band's torch well into the 21st century. Suffice it to say, no matter who is in the band now, the album absolutely smokes, and if "Waile" is the new sound of Zamrock sign me up for a pallet-load of this shit.

17 "Love Comes and Goes" | Layng Martine Jr.

Why We Like It

This is a warm story. Layng Martine Jr. is a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, writing songs for artists as diverse as Elvis, the Pointer Sisters, and Trisha Yearwood among many others. His music producer son, Tucker Martine, thought it would be cool to have his dad record some of his own songs from over the years and put out an album. Tucker chose the songs, Layng sang 'em. Pretty cool idea. End of story. But not quite. I'm not sure anyone was prepared for how good this record turned out. It was no surprise the songwriting was top-notch, of course, that was never in question. What most weren't prepared for was the sound of the 80-year-old Layng's boyish voice, amazingly preserved and fresh sounding like it was coming from someone less than half his age. The entire record is a revelation, an absolute charmer of the highest order, and its mere existence in my record collection makes me so so happy. Hard to pick a single track, but "Love Comes and Goes" is a little pop gem that I could've heard Nick Lowe or Dave Edmunds killing back in the 80s. Please give this gem of record a chance, I beg of you.

18 "We Should Be Together" | The Wedding Present

Why We Like It

In 2022, David Gedge, leader of the long-running British indie-pop band the Wedding Present, decided to release a double-A-sided single every month for a year. A fun idea, but not a new one. He'd done the same thing in 1992 (eventually compiled on the CDs Hit Parade 1 and 2). Well, the current effort resulted in twelve of the songs hitting the British charts triggering a collector's feeding frenzy over the elusive vinyl singles. Thankfully, another double-LP compilation, 24 Songs, has all the singles in one spot and the overall quality is remarkably consistent. It's highly recommended that you snag a copy ASAP. Gedge's brand of jangly indie-pop sounds crisp and fresh to these ears and there's not a single clunker among the two-dozen tracks. Which makes for a difficult pick here, but give a quick spin to the charming duet "We Should Be Together," which features Louise Wener of the Britpop band Sleeper, the band who originally wrote the song, but never recorded it. When Sleeper guitarist Jon Stewart (not that one) joined the Wedding Present in 2019, he played Gedge the old song and Gedge loved it. So here you have it once and for all, a track that sounds to me like a lost classic single from the golden age of Britpop.

19 "Dandelion" | Kristin Hersh

Why We Like It

Kristin Hersh, leader of indie-rock legends Throwing Muses, is due to put out a new solo record later this year called Clear Pond Road. While I normally try to wait until the record comes out, I just couldn't resist "Dandelion," the advance single. The Muses last album, Sun Racket from 2020, was one of their best ever and made our Top 50 list that year, with Hersh in great songwriting and singing form. In fact, her voice has gained just the perfect layer of patina with age and her wrecked poetry seems strangely fitting for the bleak times we've lived through recently. "Dandelion" continues in the same vein and makes me think we're in for something pretty special later this year. There's something beautiful about this haunting tale and the ominous haze that hovers over the whole track. A captivating listen that makes me want more.

20 "The Habsburg Jaw" | Califone

Why We Like It

I wasn't expecting Califone to check in with one of my favorite records of the year so far, but Villagers is one of 2023's most unexpected surprises. Tim Rutili's intentionally fractured and hastily reassembled folk songs are unlike anyone else's I can think of and his withering, cracking vocals perfectly complement his junk drawer creations. "The Habsburg Jaw" is a great song that also makes you learn something that you would likely have never learned otherwise. As it turns out, the Habsburgs were a German-Austrian ruling family, who to consolidate their power, often married internally. Such inbreeding apparently caused a downstream effect of physical abnormalities, like bulbous lower lips, long noses, and a jutting jawline known, you got it, as the "Habsburg jaw" (see video still above). Thanks for the lesson, Tim! The song tells you none of this of course—

I had to do my own research on the side—but it's just the kind of found information I relish and what has always made Califone's music unique. Everything about the band's music seems like it was found in a pile of discarded ephemera just waiting to be rediscovered and repurposed.

21 "I Did It" | Unloved

Why We Like It

Unloved is right. They released a new album this year and it has roundly been ignored for some reason despite being quite good. You'd think they'd get some residual love based on their excellent work soundtracking the spy adventure series Killing Eve. Oh well, the album is full of the mysterious, radiating pop songs that were a highlight of that series and they are only getting more and more ambitious and adventurous as they go. Their new record, Polychrome, is a follow up to 2022's Pink Album, which was a double-LP, so perhaps there's a little product burnout happening. Don't miss it, though, especially if you like covert exotic adventures with a psychedelic sheen and a big fucking beat. "I Did It" is another career highlight for the band, a foreboding tale of a one-sided relationship that is all give and no take.

22 "Holy Smoke" | A Certain Ratio

Why We Like It

After the real threat of shutting the machines down and logging off for good in late-aughts, I'm strangely pleased with the sudden resurgence of Manchester mainstays A Certain Ratio. I guess they figure, in the age of user-friendly tech, that their time has come once again. And they're seizing the moment, too, bringing us some deliriously inventive singles over the past three years. In 2020, "Taxi Guy" made it into our Top 25 songs of the year list and now, three years later, they're back with a strong LP titled, appropriately enough, 1982. Not sure what they're getting at, but there a several mixtape gems on the record, including the 80s funk blast, "Holy Smoke," that sounds like it could've been a pretty solid Prince song back in the day, pounding against your speaker cabinet walls with conviction.

23 "Shit Talkin'" | Alex Lahey

Why We Like It

Let's wrap up Q2 2023, Part One with a few rockers, shall we? There's some real good stuff on the new Alex Lahey album, The Answer is Always Yes, and the title is a good approach to life, especially post-pandemic. More people should say yes to more things now. I am not one of those people, however. Despite that, I love this catchy little throwaway about visiting friends and then ripping them apart during the car ride home so you can feel a little better about your own pathetic lives for a while. It's a total mean-spirited romp with a wonderful singalong chorus. That is cuts a little close to the bone is neither here nor there.

24 "Love Beyond the Grave" | Crocodiles

Why We Like It

Crocodiles return with their 8th album and they've got death on their mind this time. Doesn't matter though, it's all in good fun and "Love Beyond the Grave" is an Exploding Hearts-styled power-punk pop song with ripping guitars and a super-catchy chorus for all you garage rockers out there. Nothing that's gonna knock you dead, although they would apparently like that, just a three-minute blast of leather-jacketed, guitar-and-drums combo like they used to make back in the day. Fire it up.

25 "Crocodile Smile" | Pere Ubu

Why We Like It

A daily-double with a crocodile theme falls accidentally into our hands here, thanks to the veteran art-rockers known as Pere Ubu. The band threatened to call it quits with The Long Goodbye in 2019, but they are healthy and thankfully back at it again in 2023, almost 50 years after forming back in 1975. They are still an incredibly weird acquired taste to be sure, so don't be surprised if you're not into this, but if you are, let's hang out. You're have my kind of ears. I can't explain why I like this band so much, an affection that has grown stronger as they release album after album. Band leader David Thomas sings like he's caught in a bear trap and his band of misfits indulges his every demented whim with relish. They shouldn't exist in this world and I love every minute of it as a result. Will you?

26 "Apples and Oranges" | Jenny Lewis

Why We Like It

Not a smashing Jenny Lewis record this year, but there's always some juicy fruit to squeeze in every bushel and fittingly I was immediately drawn to "Apples and Oranges," a simple, open-air breakup song that features some vacuous, mind-blowing rebound sex that feels like sunshine and blue skies for a while, but ends up revealing some looming dark clouds on the horizon. But who cares when you're living in the moment anyway? I love the line, To be truthful / It's been fruitful / To live like a kid. Ain't nothing wrong with allowing yourself a break from serious pursuits now and then and I'd avoid doing so forever if I could. Jenny has a knack for bringing her fresh songwriting perspective to any situation no matter how routine and this time it's good to hear her having a little fun for a little while at least.

Outro: "Choro 'Nuff" | Alison Brown (ft. Anat Cohen)

Sometimes, when making a mixtape, you end up with a little extra real estate at the end of the spool. You can either leave it blank or find something to fill the space. If you leave it blank, you can't just flip over the tape and play the other side right away without rewinding for a bit, so I generally retrofit a short piece of music as a courtesy to my listener (sometimes me) to maximize the space. Such is the case here, so this time I'm adding this amazing banjo instrumental that delightfully brings in a little Brazilian flavor courtesy of Banjo Hall of Famer* Alison Brown. The track is featured on her cleverly-titled new record, On Banjo, which features some absolutely staggering 5-string virtuosity. I think you'll find it to be the perfect little segue into the rest of your day.

(No video or audio link to be found, however).

*The Banjo Hall of Fame is located in Oklahoma City, OK. Brown was elected in 2019, only five years after they began allowing five-string players in. Up to that point, it was only four-stringers. And you thought the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame had its collective head up their asses!


See you in a few days with Q2 2023, Part Two. The quarter so nice we had to mixtape it twice!


The Priest

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