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Pickled Priest Mixtape: Our Favorite New Songs of Q3 2023, Part One

Somebody left the spigot open and an almost sarcastic amount of new songs spilled out over the last 90 days. Shits been pouring out all over the floor. A total mess. So instead of cleaning it all up we picked up a bunch of them and slapped them on two mixtapes for our congregation to pore over at their leisure. Fifty-two (and a couple bonus tracks) of our favorite Q3 moments curated with the open-minded listener in mind, sequenced lovingly by the Pickled Priest for maximum impact. Which means these aren't in order of preference—we'll sort that part out at year-end. The bottom line is that songs stick with us for many different reasons and we're always searching for those reasons. Let's see if we can find out.



SIDE A


01 "Downtown Fred" | Albert Hammond Jr.

Why We Like It

Melodies on Hiatus is an amusing but deceptive album title because there are melodies everywhere on Hammond's latest solo record—almost too many. As any self-respecting rock critic will inevitably point out, Albert has given us more Albert than we need this time. At 67-minutes and 19 songs, it no doubt would've had more impact with some judicious edits. That said, if I was personally tasked with curating his latest song dump, I really only hear a couple glaring targets that I'd torpedo outright (the derivative Stones rip-off "Never Stop" just doesn't work and the guest vocal from Rainsford on "Alright Tomorrow" is fine but a questionable way to close the record). But I'd struggle with the job after that. Without a doubt, Hammond's skills as a pop songwriter are substantial. And his voice is perfect for his pop-ish solo material—Julian wouldn't sound right singing this stuff—and apparently he's especially creative when he doesn't have to worry about writing lyrics, here subcontracting those duties to talented poet-for-hire Simon Wilcox. Their chemistry is immediately evident on album opener "Downtown Fred." I can't imagine what Wilcox thought when she heard Hammond's track for this one, because it's all over the map. It goes down a back road every time it seems to settle onto a clear paved road. But that's the point—the song keeps you on your toes, so you're never quite sure when it's going to make a squealing left turn or snap your head forward with a quick downshift. It's a really fun ride, whatever this is.



02 "Are You Serious?" / "Raw Raw" | K. Flay


Why We Like It

A rare twofer offered here from Wilmette, Illinois' very own, K. Flay, and the exception is granted for good reason. Kristine Flaherty spontaneously lost hearing in one ear last year (which scares the shit out of me to be honest) and she had to figure out what that meant, if anything, for her ability to still make music. She's a studio geek, constantly experimenting with sound, so I can understand why she kicks off her new album with the track "Are You Serious?" which grapples with the initial shock and disbelief she clearly battled through after her diagnosis. Since it's crucial to her story, and it only takes her about 90-seconds, I've tacked it on to the front of "Raw Raw," her first single since the power went out. It's ironic that an artist who is all about audio adventure doesn't have the ability to hear her music like everyone else does, but that hasn't stopped her from making a dynamic, challenging, and innovative album. It's one of those quintessential headphone albums and it sounds like she's found a way to work through, and beyond, her new liability with her creativity and sense of humanity and humor intact. She did title the album MONO, after all.



03 "Morning Zoo" | Ratboys

Why We Like It

This is it. This is how you can make something fresh with familiar ingredients. It helps to have a great singer and songwriter like Julia Steiner who makes it all sound as easy as rolling over in the morning and killing your bad thoughts with a butcher knife. OK, so that part's not so typical, but she's going to achieve inner peace any way she can get it, method to her madness be damned. That kind of approach to life, as it turns out, is just what I need right now and this Chicago band, with the help of fabulous producer Chris Walla (Death Cab), has found a bigger sound without sacrificing what made them a buzz band to begin with.



04 "Namesake" | Noname

Why We Like It

If you're like me, sometimes you take notice of a song for the itty bittiest of reasons. In this case literally. The first lyrics of Noname's word waterfall, "Namesake," reference the "Itty Bitty Titty Committee," something my 9-year-old pals and I used to trot out gleefully during recess back in the 70s. We thought it was hysterical when we first heard it and used it at every ham-fisted opportunity. So that's all it took to get me hooked on her latest record which has more great lyrics than the pan can handle. She gets on such a roll here that nobody is safe from her lyrical digs, including royalty like Rihanna, Kendrick, Beyoncé, and Jay-Z for playing the Super Bowl. To be fair, she even takes a shot at herself for her own hypocrisy (playing Coachella after complaining about the festival's lack of diversity). It all goes down smoothly because she has such a wicked sense of humor and a natural, laid-back flow, but if you so desire there's pointed lyrical fodder to chew on, too. The best of both words.



05 "Act Natural" | Margaret Glaspy

Why We Like It

Margaret Glaspy likely won't cross over any time soon—her songs are just a little too off-kilter for mainstream acceptance, relying on woozy guitar licks, odd time signatures, and abstract lyrics like "Can those marigold ears hear me?" "Act Natural," to its credit, doesn't sound like many other songs despite its relatively simple foundation of guitars, bass, and drums. It probably would've had better success in the alternative 90s, when little indie-rock gems like this had a better chance at making some impact. My hope is that real inventive and original rock songs like this one will make a comeback.



06 "Vampire Empire" | Big Thief

Why We Like It

I haven't sanctioned the whole act yet, initially I claimed groupthink for their success, and I'm still wading through last year's monstrous Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You, but I'm warming up from my ice age slowly but surely. I have to say, I so appreciate the release of a single song this year. And what a killer single song it is! Apparently in their live set for a couple years already, I'm assuming it had to be the set closer. The song's lyrics spill out as Adrianne Lenker exasperatedly tells us of her frustration with her "vampire," an unpredictable person who never seems to know what they want when so they act differently depending on the moment, the time of day, or their emotional or physical needs. Nobody wants to deal with that, but it does make for a great song.



07 "I Go To Sleep" | Joel Stoker

Why We Like It

Joel Stoker is, or was, the lead singer of England group the Rifles, a band unfairly lost in the Britpop shuffle—at least in the States, that is. That's a shame, though, as they wrote really great little pop songs with catchy melodies and simple, straightforward hooks. Perhaps they would've benefited from amping things up a little bit to stand out more, but I liked them just as they were. Since when has a crisp and clean pop song not been a welcome thing? I don't know what a solo record from Stoker means yet, but his solo sound isn't far removed from his work with the band. "I Go To Sleep" is proof that the guy knows his way around a pop song. Here, he feels like a ship in the night and there's no shore in sight. Who can't relate to that?



08 "Paul Rudd" | Claud

Why We Like It

Paul Rudd isn't mentioned in the lyrics of his namesake song, although he does a cameo as a mailman in the video for another song ("A Good Thing") from Claud's splendid new charmer of a record, Supermodels. I'm guessing adolescent fixation realized. Claud has, over two albums now, found a niche within the roster of Phoebe Bridgers' Saddest Factory roster as the clever pop songsmith with the quirky lyrics about unrequited love and sticky sweet hooks to make it go down a little easier. She makes the difficult sound easy on "Paul Rudd" and manages to slip in a valuable life lesson along the way about accepting your complicated feelings at face value instead of apologizing for them or sweeping them under the carpet.



09 "Misery & Company" | Withered Hand

Why We Like It

I've said it before and I'll say it again here. The Brits are often better at making Americana music than actual Americans. Witness Edinburgh's Dan Willson, performing as Withered Hand since 2008, admittedly a name that doesn't promise a barrel of fun. And the title "Misery & Company," from his excellent new album How to Love, isn't going to change that perception. But if you give this song some of your valuable time (and I know you've been wasting a lot of it lately based on your recent search history) it may just convert you. It has a catchy chorus, actually two of them kinda, and the vocal has a bit of a Wayne Coyne vibe at times, but tolerable. All I know is that when he starts talking about his heart beating again, I can't help but get swept up in his declarations of love.



10 "Full Circle" | Maria Wilman

Why We Like It

Where the fuck have you been, Maria? Here's her debut record at the ripe age of 53, which proves the dream never has to die as long as you're willing to put yourself out there. It's too bad it took her so long because she's a crafty songwriter with a great voice. She could easily pull off the Chrissie role in a Pretenders cover band if she wanted to and as it turns out she's a bit of a pretender herself. On the cover of her new record, she wears a black mask a la Mrs. Incredible almost as if she's trying to hide her true identity from her friends and co-workers in case the music thing doesn't work out. With an album as good as Dark Horse and songs as instantly memorable as "Full Circle" (just one choice of many possibles), good luck with that. From now on, she deserves to focus on nothing but making music, her true calling. Better late than never!

Elastigirl returns?

11 "Andalusia Plays" | Slowdive

Why We Like It

File under: Things I didn't know I needed. Maybe I was too wrapped up in my alternative rock, blues, and soul records to indulge Slowdive back in their so-called prime, but the entirety of their new record, Everything is Alive, some thirty years after forming, is fantastic. It's something to put on and immerse yourself in completely deprivation-tank style, like the best shoegaze demands. It's an enthralling listen with "Andalusia Plays" as its centerpiece, reaffirming that they are the one of the masters of this domain. I'm paying attention now.



12 "Salt Throwers Off a Truck" | Grian Chatten

Why We Like It

It might not be a good sign that lead singer Grian Chatten already has a solo album after three great LPs fronting Dublin's finest current rock band, Fontaines D.C., but it could also act as a needed creative outlet for the Irish poet, one that allows some of his more demure compositions to breathe and thrive in a more relaxed atmosphere. "Salt Throwers Off a Truck," an awkward title to be sure, is a fine example of what makes his new solo album, Chaos For the Fly, one of the year's most surprising records so far. Chatten's flat, nasal voice works perfectly inside the downcast moods he creates. On this song, a bitter winter day in New York City is brought to poetic life...

When February came, it came straight for New York

Any colder, they said we'll be skating to work

Salt throwers were taming the sidewalks with haste

'Til the whole of the city was seasoned to taste


The entire album has this same rainy day feel throughout, but the key is that Chatten is always aware of the need for a memorable vocal hook or turn of phrase. This is the insular world of a poet set to music. A slow addiction that will only get more and more unshakeable as the temperature drops and dark pubs fill with people looking for refuge.



13 "The Trench Coat Museum" | Yard Act

Why We Like It

Leave it to droll Leeds band Yard Act to both educate and entertain us all at one time. Here, the origin and legacy of the beloved trench coat, worn by everyone from Dick Tracy to Hitler, Humphrey Bogart to Peter Sellers, and Columbo to Snidely Whiplash, is examined. Of course, told with the amusing matter-of-fact panache of singer James Smith, the perfect bloke to enlighten us with a bit of pub trivia. The twist is that the song is anchored by an electro-synth club beat that drives the track forward, a development that shows this band has more sides than we expected. And extra credit for not only finding such an insidious groove but for extending it for a full four-minutes after the lyrics end. It's a delirious, nonsensical fade-out that only a confident band could pull off. Brilliant.



SIDE B



14 "Borealis Dancing" | Jaimie Branch

Why We Like It

Tragically dead of a drug overdose at 39-years-old last year, jazz trumpeter Jaimie Branch left us with some amazing music over her too-short career, and we should celebrate it all, but we'll never know what could've come next. That's the hard part. She was clearly one of the most promising jazz artists of her era. For some reason, she titled every one of her solo albums with a variation of her now horribly prophetic "fly or die" credo and the latest, recorded in 2022 months before her death, is Fly or Die Fly or Die Fly or Die ((World War)). It's a major work, with no posthumous embellishment required. If I may act the part of a snooty jazz critic (which I'm not), the record is a deep, ambitious, adventurous, and cohesive work that cannot be represented by just one track, such is the diversity and scope of the LP, so I advise you not to divide and conquer, even though I don't follow my own advice here by offering up "Borealis Dancing" for a quick taste. How else to get the word out? I don't consider myself a cultured connoisseur of technique and tone, but sometimes the talent is so obvious, even guys like me can get it right away. A major loss, but she left us with an amazing record to remember her by.



15 "Arrival" | Parannoul

Why We Like It

K-Pop? Not for me. So what about K-Shoegaze? Again, hard pass...usually. But Parannoul is a good example of why one should never rule anything out before listening for yourself. As it turns out, I'm highly susceptible to the majestic walls of sound this still anonymous artist has to offer and "Arrival" is a sonic journey that lures you into its world for the first 3:30 before sucking you down a black hole of disorienting yet miraculous sounds, unsure of where it's taking you. Break out your finest headphones for this one. If I see you with earbuds in your hand I'm gonna slap you into the middle of next week.



16 "It Must Change" | Anohni and the Johnsons

Why We Like It

Wow. Now this is soul music. The stunning opener from Anohni and the Johnson's powerful new record, My Back Was a Bridge For You to Cross, was inspired by Marvin Gaye's What's Going On, and astoundingly mirrors that album's combination of heartworn vocals and urgent messages. In fact, if "It Must Change" was retroactively slotted into Gaye's classic, it would likely now be considered as much a part of the soul lexicon as "What's Going On," "Mercy Mercy Me," and "Inner City Blues." It's that impactful. And the message now is similarly universal, if frustratingly persistent. What must change specifically? How we run the world, how we treat others, this relationship, how we treat our environment, all of it. Anohni's vocal here is one of her most subtle and powerful ever, gaining power through beauty, just like Marvin did back in the day. The comparison is weighty, but appropriate. One of the most distinctive voices of the last few decades.



17 "More Change" | This Is The Kit

Why We Like It

FYI: We're calling this alt-folk now. That's the genre where people have been filing Kate Stables' music made under the name This Is The Kit and it's as fair and futile as any label, reasonably accurate but limiting simultaneously. Kate isn't a traditional linear storyteller; she's a minimalist and miniaturist, opting for lilting melodies and poetic lyrics to get her magnificent songs across. That approach works particularly well on "More Change," a song that thinks about the pace of change and how it varies for each of us. Which is where potential disconnects can arise, of course. Add Kate to your list of similarly clever singer/songwriters like Aldous Harding, Cate Le Bon, and Laura Marling (et al). There's room for one more as long as it's of this high quality.



18 "When I Go to Space" | Kendra Morris

Why We Like It

There's nothing I don't like about Kendra Morris's new album, I Am What I'm Waiting For: The empowering title for starters, the "clock suit" album art is marvelous, the photo book insert with snapshots of Kendra in said suit all over town, the creamsicle vinyl, the gatefold cover design, how the lyric book is written as if part of a 7th grade cursive assignment circa 1974. Oh, and the songs, too. The songs are the best part. She's a bit of an oddball, seemingly inspired by a little of everything within earshot. The record has retro overtones until she adds some weird twist to make you question exactly what you're hearing and when it was made. "When I Go to Space" is the perfect way to introduce yourself to her music. It has a cool sound, a great vocal, clever lyrics, and it's a complete breath of fresh air just when we needed one. And I'm not going to say something like she was just what I was waiting for no matter how tempting it may be to end with such an obvious, cheeky final sentence.



19 "Hiding Out in the Open" | Feist

Why We Like It

Love is not a thing you try to do

It wants to be the thing compelling you


What a great line. Enough for me to put "Hiding Out in the Open" on this tape on its own. I can't imagine someone not being moved by this song. And the rest of her new record, Multitudes, for that matter. In fact, every Feist record has been worth hearing from moment she arrived. She's had some songs that hit the public's sweet spot, but good luck describing the rest of her recorded output with an easy label. You can tell yourself that you can afford to skip this one or that one, but each of her records has been very different than the former or the next, yet always challenging and compelling, pushing for something new each time. The comparatively stripped-down Multitudes is Feist "in the round" singing enchanting songs to a rapt audience (you and me) with little adornment. Maybe some after-session business was done to enhance the beauty of some songs, but her solo performance is at the core of these songs.



20 "Motorbike" | Motorbike

Why We Like It

Cincinnati doesn't get name-checked very often, but Motorbike (couldn't they have worked an umlaut in somehow?) is here to change that. I do love a band whose name is also the title of the album and is also the title of a song on the album (i.e Black Sabbath's "Black Sabbath" from their Black Sabbath album). Album opener (of course), "Motorbike," is now the band's de facto theme song that they will surely be opening their sets with for as long as they can hold the band together. And it's a ripper, too. It sounds more like a mission statement than anything. This band is clearly interested in speed and guitars, both at the same time. They've got a song titled "Throttle," another called "Off I Sped," and another titled "Potential to Ride." So in other words, these guys want to rev it up and peel out pretty much all the time, which is fine by me.



21 "New York Transit Queen" | Corinne Bailey Rae

Why We Like It

"Put Your Records On" is one of my favorite songs and has been since the first time I heard it. Cool Sunday afternoon R&B. But if you think Corinne was going to lock into that easy-listening groove forever, her new album indicates you have wildly underestimated her. Black Rainbows is a game-changer for Bailey Rae, the kind of record that draws a line between the old and new versions of an artist. It's also one of the year's most impressive creative pivots. You know things have changed for an artist when they suddenly get slotted into the "punk" section of a mixtape after years of settling into the cool groove department. "New York Transit Queen" is a convincing punk-rock track that you might've heard in the Bowery of the 1970s. The first time I heard it I was equally impressed and mystified. And that's not a feeling you get every day. While you're putting records on, may I suggest Black Rainbows?



22 "Unable" / "Running" | Snõõper


Why We Like It

Once you start cheating on a mixtape, it's hard to stop. Again, I rationalize another single-artist double-play because the first of the two is a sõōper short, but sõōper effective, cover of the Suburban Lawns' "Unable," which to me sounds like an underrated punk classic. Lead singer Blair Tramel positively brings it on this track. And the same goes for the entirety of Snõōpers' new record, Super Snõōper, which packs sixteen blistering songs into 24-minutes. So, in other words, the band is not very interested in stretching out even though three of the songs on the album are titled "Stretching" (1:09), "Stretching 2," (0:36) and "Stretching 3" (0:48)! A tally of the proceeds: five songs under a minute and nine 2-minutes and under. I love their desire to get in and get out with some hard fast thrills, but I've gotta say that as much as I love what this band is doing I really love how they end with an extended 5:23 ripper. Finally, we hear what this band has threatened for the whole record. The full fucking stretch. Maybe all this time they were just warming up for this set-closing scorcher, which tells us there's potentially way more to this band than initially expected. Even if you're a die-hard punk, you have to admit that sometimes you wish some of those super-short punk classics would last a little longer. I know I have. Here's why.



23 "Call of the Knife" | Chain Whip & "One More Thing" | The Hell


Why We Like It

I have a general rule with mixtapes. You get two punk songs for the price of one as long as both clock in under the two-minute mark, so I'm counting these two raw cuts of rancid meat as one song in order to find room for other songs this quarter. Both are on the wholly reliable Drunken Sailor Records (UK), a label with such a good track record lately I'd pretty much recommend anything they put out (also check out the Prize and Class et al). Vancouver-based Chain Whip's slashing new single "Call of the Knife" is a fierce, Jack the Ripper-type track that's as sharp and menacing as the sinister cover shown above. You just can't fake this kind of nasty. Similarly, Cleveland's the Hell have a new EP-length LP out that flamethrows through ten songs in only 14-minutes, so there's really no reason to parse it for individual tracks (whole album included above), but still we are loyal to our mixtape concept so we've chosen the blistering "One More Thing" to rep the record mainly because we like the closing lyric, "One more stupid thing from you and it's lights out motherfucker!?



24 "Spite" | Billy Nomates

Why We Like It

If Taylor Swift wrote "The Man" in an English pub after breaking up with Travis Kelce this is what it might've sounded like. It's an inspired, inebriated rant, in no way pathetic like you might expect a jealous ex to sound. Instead it's bold and brash and locked onto an emotional bullseye like an ace dart thrower. You want one chance in this life to nail a takedown like this. May yours be as satisfying as hers.



25 "Don't Believe the Dancers" | Tony Allen & Adrian Younge

26 "Chasing the Drum" | Yussef Dayes

Why We Like It

Let's end with some world class drumming shall we? First, the late great Tony Allen, who recorded a session with Adrian Younge as part of Younge's Jazz Is Dead project. Allen died a couple years ago, so this recording is a belated gift to all of us. Anything the guy touched seemed to be elevated by his presence and this offering is no different. He was an artistically restless phenom till the bitter end and his work here is predictably inspired. The man was a genius behind the kit and you don't have to be a drum head to realize that. The debut from another impressive drummer, Yussef Dayes is Black Classical Music (which is what jazz has been called in some circles). The whole album is diverse and complex, so picking out one track doesn't do it justice, but if you have to, why not go with the "Chasing the Drum," a showcase for Dayes' amazing talent. His stick work lives up to the lofty title. The next generation of incredible drummers has arrived and Dayes is one of them.



Outro: "There is a Club" | Jenny O.

Why We Like It

We end with a little ditty about being an outcast from Jenny O.'s excellent Spectra album from earlier this year. It's captures that feeling of not belonging to anyone or to anything, but is that by choice or not by choice? The lyrics don't make that clear and I have to think that's by design. I know I relate to this song, but I am not quite sure how.


___________________________________


Well, that's it for Tape One. While you're here and if you still can hear, why not move on to Part Two? Never enough songs, after all. NEVER ENOUGH.



Cheers,


The Priest

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