August: the month when temperatures feel unbearable and the smartest among us savor the dwindling days of summer by lazing around for just a little longer before autumn creeps in. But music definitely didn’t take a break this month, with new offerings including Kesha’s first album in five years, a set of poignant acoustic music videos from Lorde, and a rare misstep of a single from Taylor Swift, among plenty of others.
But the most exciting highlights of the end-of-summer spoils are the nine singles and albums listed below, all of which are more than worth your time. Featuring new entries from Grizzly Bear, the Spanish punk-rock girl group Hinds, and a singer who shot to fame opening for Sufjan Stevens, they’ll keep you company as the days get shorter and fall peeks over the horizon.
Radiator Hospital’s lyrics shine in “Dance Number”
Radiator Hospital, a Michigan-bred band that now makes music in Philly, has a whole catalog of poetic lyrics worth paying attention to. In particular, “Dance Number” — the first single off their upcoming album, Play The Songs You Like — weaves the story of a life slowly, imperceptibly slipping off the tracks: “I find meaning in this life when I wake up every day / But I'm feeling sick and tired in new and frightening ways.”
Still, you’d be forgiven if you’re drawn more to the band’s punk-pop melodies than you are to their lyrics; they’re well-crafted and reflect the group’s skill in building compelling hooks from drums and fuzzy guitars. And nearly every song is short, with barely any of Radiator Hospital’s tracks cresting the two-minute, 30-second mark.
Hinds gets surfy with a ’70s cover
This four-woman punk-rock group from Madrid has released a late-summer treat: a cover of Kevin Ayer’s 1970s song “Caribbean Moon.” Ayers, a pop singer who was a key member of the English psychedelic movement, wasn’t known for donning a fake Caribbean accent — but he did for this song, released in 1973. Now Hinds has put their own spin on the track by adding surfy guitar licks and their cheeky voices, turning it into something much more palatable. It’s a perfect little song to listen to while drinking a margarita outside.
This self-care jam from Lizzo will inspire you to stay hydrated
Lizzo, the rap/hip-hop artist known for songs that focus on loving yourself (“Good as Hell”; “Let ‘em Say”), is back with “Water Me,” a single about self-care through staying hydrated — and though it may initially sound a little silly, trust me, it’s really good. “Water Me” has Lizzo’s classic dance-y rap/pop sound, and she’s paired it with a beautiful music video full of black people of all ages using water to nourish themselves. In one shot, a mom is bathing a child; in another, a boy is running through a sprinkler. Lizzo told the Fader: “It's about needing nourishment, it's about being loved for who you are. … We're celebrating black beauty and the meaningful freedom of water.”
Shilpa Ray is ditching her harmonium for 1960s pop
Punk-blues singer Shilpa Ray breaks a bit with her standard sound on her new single, “Shilpa Ray’s Got a Heart Full of Dirt.” She’s known for her low, drawling voice and melodies backed with a harmonium — an accordion-like instrument with a haunting, eerie sound. This new single pulls Ray and her band away from their usual weightier punk rock and toward more upbeat 1960s pop.
In “Heart Full of Dirt,” Ray’s first song off her upcoming album Door Girl (out September 22), she veers so far back in time that a few lines of Little Anthony’s 1958 hit “Tears on My Pillow” slip in. The lighter take is a welcome deviation; Ray shows off her vocal chops a bit, and the band sounds tight.
Jazzy instrumentals make Moses Sumney’s new track super lush
Moses Sumney’s songs are meditations — they’re brooding and contemplative and controlled by his focused, talented voice. On “Quarrel,” Sumney departs from his typical sound by adding more instrumentation and leaning into a jazz style; it’s full of lush ascending and descending notes that fill up the space behind his voice.
A two-minute outro features two different instrumental solos: one an ear-buzzing keyboard screech and the other a lovely piano composition. (Though if you want to skip the outros and stick to Sumney’s luscious vocals, he’s also released “Quarrel - Edit,” the same song with the ending lopped off.) His debut LP, Aromanticism, comes out on September 22.
It’s okay to be sad with Julien Baker
Julien Baker songs can be tough to stomach. The artist — young, delicately voiced, intense — sings almost exclusively about sad things: hopelessness, death, depression, you get the idea. But tiny flashes of light still make their way into her songs, and those moments of brightness — in concert with Baker’s mesmerizing and fragile vocals — makes the sadness worth it.
“Appointments” is the first single off her upcoming sophomore album, Turn Out the Lights, out October 27. Its lyrics stick to her usual themes of sorrow, with Baker’s confident voice backed by echoes: “And I already know how it looks / You don't have to remind me so much / How I disappoint you.” Check out Baker’s Tiny Desk concert for a good intro to the singer’s style.
A Chicago public housing complex is Open Mike Eagle’s new concept
Art-rapper Open Mike Eagle’s upcoming album, Brick Body Kids Still Daydream, due out September 15, is a concept album: 12 tracks all about the Robert Taylor Homes, a public housing complex in Chicago that was torn down in 2007. In his most recent single from the record, “Brick Body Complex,” the rapper ruminates on the buildings themselves, which survived Chicago winters for decades only to eventually be torn down. “95 Radios,” the record’s other single, takes a smoother tone as Eagle sings about listening to the radio during his childhood.
Eagle’s style is unique and complex, almost literary. For more on the artist, Vox’s Estelle Caswell has a great interview with him that covers his history, influences, and favorite bands, plus a few more of his songs.
Jen Cloher’s self-titled LP is lyric-focused rock ‘n’ roll
Australian singer-songwriter Jen Cloher’s self-titled new album has an easy way about it. It’s indie rock that veers from heavy electric guitar licks (“Strong Woman”) to spare tracks where her low-key, shimmery guitar really shines (“Sensory Memory”). Cloher herself has said “the tunes are secondary” to the lyrics, though — and her tracks bounce from one about marriage equality in Australia (“Analysis Paralysis”) to a love song (“Dark Art”) to one about bands who leave Australia to try to make it overseas (“Great Australian Bite”).
Cloher is one of the co-founders of her label, Milk! Records; the other half is her wife, musician Courtney Barnett. (If you like Barnett’s music, it’s pretty safe to say you’ll like Cloher’s — but let’s not compare them too much.) Right now, Cloher is on tour with both Barnett and Kurt Vile; talk about a stacked lineup.
Painted Ruins, Grizzly Bear’s new album, adds complexity through synth
In their first album since 2012’s Shields, Grizzly Bear is back with more synth than ever. Full of heavy beats and electronic sounds, Painted Ruins retains the unique chamber pop sound of Ed Droste’s vocals, while tracks like “Losing All Sense” and “Systole” (a term for the contraction phase of a human heartbeat) add thick layers of texture through instrumentation and buzzy computerized noises. If you’re looking for something just like Grizzly Bear’s 2009 mega-hit “Two Weeks” you might come up short — but check out “Mourning Sound,” one of the album’s singles, for a more familiar tone.
Here’s a Spotify playlist of all the songs above.