Welcome to August’s Monthly Tune-Up! To close out the end of the month, we’ve got an ethereal folk ballad from Sufjan Stevens, alternative low-key pop from jaboukie, storytelling country from Nora Kelly Band and more. Summer isn’t over yet (yes, September counts as summer—don’t let your deeply ingrained back-to-school brain trick you into thinking it isn’t), but allow these queer tunes to lull you into the season’s home stretch.
“So You Are Tired”—Sufjan Stevens
First, Mitski announced a surprise album and dropped her lead single last month, and now indie folk legend and songwriter extraordinaire Sufjan Stevens is back with a new song and an upcoming album called Javelin set to be released in October? Yeah, we’re definitely easing out of hot gay summer and entering emotional gay autumn. Stevens’s music has always resonated with his following of queer fans. If I had to choose one word to describe his sound, and the overall running throughline in his music, it would be catharsis. Sometimes catharsis can be painful, like when we’re releasing something that isn’t good for us to make way for better things. No one captures that conflicting experience quite like Stevens does—“So You Are Tired” is a breakup song about the other person falling out of love, losing the passion and energy needed to keep a relationship going. On a Sufjan Stevens song, a guitar becomes a harp and a choir of angelic voices swallows you whole. It’s gorgeous and raw; a song that’s capable of digging deep into your wounds and patching them up within the same stanza.
Comedian and writer Jaboukie Young-White, arguably one of the funniest personalities on Twitter, has ventured into music with his debut album All who can’t hear must feel. Jumping from jovial, bravado-filled rap and hip hop to low-key pop and soul, jaboukie reflects on queerness and mental health—with the occasional joke or gut-busting lyric thrown into the emotional landscape every now and then. On “cranberry sauce,” jaboukie idly drags his vocals across a skeletal, minimalistic beat as he tries to seek comfort in a relationship that’s crumbling to the ground. It’s a light and laid-back song with a bitter edge, one that shows off the internet star’s poignant penmanship instead of just his comedic chops.
“The Roach”—Genesis Owusu
Australian artist Genesis Owusu’s sophomore album Struggler follows the character of Roach, an outcast trying to navigate life in an absurd world, set to an eclectic fusion of disco and punk. The album was heavily inspired by Samuel Beckett’s 1953 play Waiting for Godot, and explores an odyssey of themes, sounds and other literary references. The second track, “The Roach,” introduces our main character, lamenting about the uncertain and dreary state of their existence. The song’s murky guitar line and echoey, chanting choruses easily stick in your head, and Owusu speak-sings the verses in a choppy delivery, mirroring Roach’s disoriented mindset. For a song centring on existentialism and boredom, Owusu’s unique blend of rock and dance music on “The Roach” sounds anything but.
“Found My Love”—Courtney Lynn and Quinn
“Found My Love” by married folk/country duo Courtney Lynn and Quinn reminds me so much of the sunny, carefree acoustic pop that dominated the radio in the early to mid 2000s—think Corinne Bailey Rae’s “Put Your Records On” or Natasha Bedingfield’s “These Words.” This joyous and understated love song has a certain nostalgic quality that put a smile on my face when I heard it for the first time. Its simple guitar, tender harmonies and delicate lyrics about the little intimacies that make up a relationship are charming. “Found My Love” is warm and golden, like a dawn sunrise pouring in through the blinds—a perfect autumnal ballad about loving your wife, just in time for fall!
“both hands up”—Nxdia
This dark pop-dance track from U.K.-based Egyptian and Sudanese musician Nxdia’s latest EP in the flesh growls with intensity and bleeds vulnerability. “both hands up,” like most of the EP, is performed in both English and Arabic, and the track is brimming with energy and an undercurrent of mystery and allure. “both hands up” is about the juxtaposition of not taking accountability for yourself, but also being annoyed at others for doing the same thing. Nxdia takes these complicated, hypocritical, flip-flopping human emotions and gives them a booming club-beat pulse and a rhythm to sweat and dance away your problems to—a party jam for overthinkers and those with words left unsaid.
“Rodeo Clown”—Nora Kelly Band
On Rodeo Clown, the first full-length EP from Montreal alt-country group Nora Kelly Band, a revolving door of different stories and characters appear, including a clown, whose job it is to entertain, but behind their painted face is loneliness and despair. The titular song conjures a picture of this clown, coming home to four empty walls to ponder the impermanence of life and the obsession with materialism in the modern world. A sharp, discordant twang and a galloping rhythm give the song a cinematic feel, like the theme of an anti-hero in a western. Ghoulish laughs and shrieks in the song’s final act add a sinister tone, playing on the dual personas and the concealment of true emotions the album builds upon.