Great Songs of Q1 2024.

steve cuocci
16 min readApr 1, 2024

|| (Spotify) || (Apple Music) || (YouTube) ||

Pile — Scaling Walls

I talked about this a little bit in a spotlight I did on the record last month, and I would still hold that this track is one of my favorites to drop all year. There’s a desperation in it, something sad and clawing. There’s a fathomless depth that the singer seems to be descending into, an unquantifiable weight that lies on their chest which is slowly kneading the words out of him. The song has a minimalist and abstract tone of cubist paintings, little fractions coming into union in order to craft a full scale presentation. Pile understands how massive swings of the pendulum work, and they’ve masterfully employed the emotional bob at the end of the gliding thread here. (YouTube)

Wilco — Space Oddity — Live

I just finished reading Jeff Tweedy’s latest book and have an even deeper appreciation for his work now than I did at the end of 2023. His ability to communicate his reverence for the music of others is an art form in and of itself. I think when he covers a song, he’s not only trying to pay homage to it, but he’s trying to live within it as well, trying to find the World Within a Song that he writes about. This is one of my favorite David Bowie songs as well (it’s down to two for me which are all time, this being one, ‘Ziggy Stardust’ being the other), so hearing an artist so adept at the medium put their own energy into it is fantastic. What’s more, relating to the intangible ability to pay your respects to a song in your own way is fringing on the impossible, and I think he does a remarkable job here. I think Wilco captures the sparse sense of open space perfectly here, and I think they do a good job at portraying the dread and sensitivity that Bowie brought to the song in its original form. (YouTube)

Kali Uchis — Igual Que Un Angel (w/ Peso Pluma)

I thought I might have heard this singer’s name some time over the course of the last few years, but it wasn’t until Pitchfork mentioned that this was one of the first records of the year they’d wanted to deem Best New Music that I really decided I’d dive in. This song in particular is one that jumps out to me in a major way. The chorus reminds me a lot of a song ‘Empire Ants’ by Gorillaz with Little Dragon. It’s got a very cool, very mellow flow to it with some pop and flourish to be found in the vocals here and there. I think this is just one of those pocket hits that isn’t timeless on its own, but it brushes up against some kind of eternal nimbus of music which sounds like everything ethereal, everything enjoyable. (YouTube)

The Smile — Teleharmonic

There are a lot of layers to break apart when it comes to Thom Yorke and Johnny Greenwood’s new venture. It’s got a lot of the same facades that Radiohead made familiar. But there’s something distinctly Other about it. The forces of the individuals are far more discernible. Thom’s overt electronic experimentation, and spiraling into chasms of the mind that bestow upon the listener abstract new shapes with angles and curves once unconjured. Johnny’s the spinal column the apparatus, more composed and agonized over, but heavily flexible, mind bent and kept within a sphere like a sage’s crystal orb. The whole record is one worth getting lost within, but this song in particular felt to me like some kind of lost underground split between a depth and a height, a surface and a ceiling. (YouTube)

Che Noir — Vanilla Skies

The beat on this one rolls clouds out at rhythmic intervals as the flow above it continues to bellow a staccato tide. It’s a mellow experience, one that gets me crossed up between syncing with the production and trying to follow the lyrical content that talks microscopically about a rugged family life in the artist’s youth. Either way, it’s a smooth two-minute pill to swallow but its function is more potent than its dosage might impart. (YouTube)

English Teacher — Albert Road

This band is so interesting to me. I end up really liking all of their songs individually, but for some reason I can’t find myself in an emotional space bare enough to engage with too many of them at once. It isn’t that they’re too sad (or too forlorn, or windblown, or happy or joyous, etc.) to bare, but almost like its authenticity, its honesty is just a lot to sustain. There’s some Fiona Apple here, some Alanis Morrissette, but mostly, I would say, there’s just a great deal of English Teacher. There’s something about the band’s voice that is so unique in its simplicity that vibes with me in a sublime way. There are instrumental bridges here that “don’t do much” but can be translated as analogs of times passed. There are notes that are sung that “don’t do much” but convey primal urges that break through the barrier of instinct. Whenever I see that this band releases a new song, I wait to roll into a parking spot to start to play it. I wait until I have some headphones with me. I wait until I’m home. Each song feels like a unit of power. (YouTube)

Briston Maroney — I Told You So

I love this bare little style. Like turning the miniscule arm on a music box, this feels like a guitar and vocal twinkling away into a bare highway, fogging up on a chilled windshield. The drums that join in on the tail end of the track feel almost like the clacking of tires as they roll across the segmented highway joints which climb into a suspension bridge. This is a road trip song, maybe even a cross-country soliloquy, whether it’s sung to his beloved passenger or as a lovelorn farewell in his rearview, this is song clasped in a locket with a set of initials carved into the lower rim. Very pretty. (YouTube)

Sweet Pill — Eternal

I reference this song on the little “Cool Records of March” or whatever. The EP this comes off of is comprised of just 4 songs. Two are good, the other two are absolutely incredible. This band is doing something so important in the emo space, creating songs that feel wrenched from clasped fists, desperate to cling to something meaningful and important. There’s also a sense of growth in these songs, a sense of the temporal nature of things. Eternal is as eternal does, but sometimes even the shape of shadows get bent in the light of forever. The guitars tell the same tale of metamorphosis and change, as the lyrics talk about what it means to consider something even when there’s nothing we’d want to do less. “I am stuck here still remembering” is a banner phrase of every heartbreak, of every moment that lives in the past but will not rest, the poltergeist of our distant days still smashing out the floorboards of our minds. (YouTube)

Gouge Away — Dallas

This record is 35 minutes of raw expression. Whether it’s a yanked shirt collar twisted in the fist of a screaming vocalist or a hazy fuzz of daydream (like this song), there is not a wasted moment throughout this entire album. I think this is the song that I will take with me forever, as it has perfected the blurred vision of timeless art. Verbally, there’s a sense of loss of control, spacelessness, vertigo, all sung with a voice barely above a whisper. Strained through dusty and rusted vents. The guitars scry and build in time with the ticking time bomb of the internal dialog. It feels like a song begging to disappear, a song waiting for itself to evaporate if only the safe word could be scored at the center of the labyrinth. I’d say that this is probably the least Gouge Away track on Deep Sage, but also possibly the strongest of their songs when untethered to the concept of a collective ‘album’. Their entire record has a cry of urgency throughout the entire piece, but I think it’s this one which rises the most tension as the lyrics crawl with an urgency of an internal dialog where the dissonance between body and mind are so vast that one can start to feel the panic of paralysis. (YouTube)

Prize Horse — Know Better

A rad entry in the grunge revival, this one by way of post-Brand New, post-Balance and Composure saddude expression. There’s a plentiful dose of misery and introspection here, circling guitar leads, chunky thrums of chords in the rhythm, tom heavy percussion to sludge through the emotional marsh. This song feels like it comes directly from a different time, flying high the colors of bygone 2010 “Movement” bands tapped in the vein of La Dispute, Pianos Become the Teeth and Citizen. Super cool song, man. (YouTube)

Mannequin Pussy — Nothing Like

This band has a couple of perfect songs. The kind of perfection that falls together in happenstance, like when a couple pulls into their driveway at the same time or when breakfast tastes just like your imagination. The way that their songs come together sometimes feels “just so”. I picked this song out of their new record pretty early on as one that I was going to latch on to for a good deal of time, but it wasn’t until I listened to it on a more aggressive cycle that I started to pick up on just how much I was falling in love with it. That clean guitar through the verse, the soaring chorus, the phantom harmony vocals that go in and out like grasping hands… so many little details that make this an absolute gem. The finale of the song (that is: all the parts that occur from the little flange petal musical bridge through to the end that fizzles out) is possibly the hardest swing the band takes, with a dozen ideas colliding at once, all things big and small. I love what this band can do, man. (YouTube)

Incubus — Echo

Both of the songs that Incubus have done off of their upcoming reimagining of Morning View have been spectacular, but this just happened to be the first of the two releases. I was intimately familiar with this band from Enjoy Incubus through Morning View. This was my first “favorite band” that I sought out new music from and went out to see live as many times as I could get myself in front of them. I felt that the releases after this record just weren’t my jam, so I let them fade away, but I still think that those records hold a really special place for me. I didn’t know just how far they were going to stretch the songs, and when you hear the majority of this track, it ultimately just sounds… sharper? Cleaner? More mature? But the backing vocals add such a dynamic spirit to it, and I thought that was a nice inclusion… until around three minutes and eighteen seconds come around and they take the song into a whole new stratosphere with a big musical bridge with what I would consider Make Yourself era spacey guitar tones and spatial acknowledgment. Cannot wait for the full release of this project. (YouTube)

Frail Body — Devotion

This band is so lauded for their work and their label has always been very kind about pushing their material out into the world with such confidence. I thought their last album was good enough, but didn’t really follow up with them. It was a little too screechy for me (though the first few tracks of the record are a wicked little play for a short car ride) but I could still see the value. The band dropped a new record this week, and I am happily surprised by the band’s growth. This is the single the band used to represent the new work, and I’m stoked about it. It has a little bit of an As Cities Burn vibe, but with a bit more of a dynamic aspect to them. More room in the sparse parts, more grind in the heavy parts. There’s a desperate hunger in the chords and in the screams, a more vicious shred in the faster parts. I believe in this sound. It has a body all its own. (YouTube)

Carly Cosgrove — Joan of Hill

I hadn’t really heard from these guys for a while, so I was happy to see another release by these jangly emo dudes. This is a cover of another band in that same little modern emo camp, Ben Quad (off of their 2022 EP, I’m Scared That’s All There Is). The song makes me feel so good. This one has a little bit of that light and poppy Get Up Kids jump to it with that next level of Into It. Over It. bendy noodling of the guitars to be found woven into the endlessly catchy songwriting. While the original version of this song is a little bit more gnarly, a little bit more gravelly, Carly Cosgrove adds a little bit of sunshine to the mix. Listen to this one, listen to that one, listen to both of them at the same time, either way. You can’t go wrong. (YouTube)

Ellis — What I Know Now

I really liked Ellis’ record from 2020, with all of its disconnected driftaway sobriety. Her new record is going to drop in April, and based on this track alone, I can already tell that the songwriting has taken a big jump and the eyes are wildly alive. There’s more of a feel to it, more spark, more vibrance. It still lives in the little cut of angst that stops shy of elation, but it feels good to see a sign of positivity from her. I have pretty high expectations for the upcoming record and I think the songs that have come from it so far have me supremely optimistic. (YouTube)

Groupthink — Gold On Me (ft. ABRA)

I don’t know much about Groupthink but when I saw they had a song with ABRA, I was pretty stoked! This is like a little underground, grunge-pop track with a hypnotic hook and a deconstructed post-dubstep beat. I think this song, more than anything, works as a proof of concept for future collaborations in a dark musical future. As long as tracks like this exist, there will be a pulse that rests off of the beaten path, a new and interesting sect that continues to thrive outside of the spotlight. (YouTube)

Warpaint — Common Blue

Pastels and dusky magic hour colors are what make this song go around. It’s catchy when it needs to be, drawing you in through a joyful undertow. There are little flecks of gold dust passing through fingers of sunbeams in the verse of this one, enough to feel a solar warmth across your face if you release yourself to the atmosphere of this track. I’m not sure what’s next for the band, but this single is just enough to keep me drifting on the wind until the next entry. (YouTube)

Mourn — Endless Looping

Such a fun band. I had no idea they were coming back with a full length this year, and when I heard this track for the first time, I verbally exclaimed “no way!” It comes right out of the gates with burst of that electricity that Mourn has wielded so expertly through their entire catalog. I love the jangly/tinny sound to their guitar and the urgency of the vocals. It feels like this song needed to be discovered in the brainwaves of the band, yearned to be created no matter the cost, no matter the effort. It writhes and pulses with so much energy. The album it comes off of, The Avoider, is definitely one not to be missed. It’s a half-hour well spent! (YouTube)

Ghost Atlas — Gaps In the Armoire

It took me some meandering, but I eventually found that Ghost Atlas is the solo project from one of the singers of aggressive scream/sing outfit ERRA. I thought this dude’s voice was super cool in this project, even though I never really cared for it alongside the screaming in the original band. It reaches for big notes, yowls in earnest and throaty notes. I think this is one of those songs that feels like a blueprint for something massive, but it works just as effectively as a sketch. The record as a whole is right there for me, though not something I would always choose for a full listen. I have already recommended it to a few friends who are more keen on the vocal side of music, and I think they’ve really been digging it. (YouTube)

Glassing — Nothing Touches You

This band is so sick. They take a ton of creative freedoms and their innovation is always at a premium. It’s been a little bit since they had something that dragged me in like this song right here, and their new record coming out in April has me super excited as it’s been 3 years since their brilliant Twin Dream from 2021. They manage to create these massive stalagmites of raw and frigid screams that stand side-by-side with angling and strobing guitar effects. The juxtaposition creates a slideshow of calamities, a frenzy of disintegrating beauty. I think bands that go for a “heavy” sound can often sound like a yearning for catharsis, but this band seems to be using its aggression for the creation of Art in the extreme. There’s a bevy of colors to be found within the kaleidoscoping fractals that Glassing creates here. (YouTube)

SeeYouSpaceCowboy — Silhouettes In Motion

I’m not sure if enough time has passed to the point where we can call this sound ‘retro’, but this band feels like what From First to Last looked like in 2004. It’s got the claps, the sass, the screams that end with crescendo, the horror chords, the pop-punk hooks… all of it. This song makes it feel like eye-liner is still in style, like Hot Topic is still the place to be for fashion accessories. I think I start off by liking this stuff ironically, but then it drags me into a place where it dusts off my jaded sense of what it means to be into More Mature Music and I begin to enjoy it just as much as I did two decades ago. There’s a good little show of musical chops as it comes to the conclusion of the song, and it really shines a lot on what their April 19th release, Coup de Grace, will be like. (YouTube)

Waxahatchee — Ice Cold

Country music has been huge in some not-so-subtle way over the last decade or so, and I can see it leaking into my own personal taste. That’s not to say that Waxahatchee is expressly a country act, but the roots and the influences are wildly clear. This is a song that sounds liberating but it also gives the sense that it works as a freeing piece for Katie Crutchfield to bellow out as well. It’s got those long notes that belt out into the open night, the foot-tapping guitar keeping time and unleashing itself in big refrains when it just can’t remain caged any longer. This is a mellow song with an energy that is anything but. Big recommendation for those of you who have been finding a new found interest in country music, but not committed to the point where you only want to hear about Boots and Trucks and Beer and Tears. (YouTube)

Kacey Musgraves — Cardinal

Speaking of country music releases, I would say that Kacey Musgraves was one of the most influential artists who spearheaded a whole new fanbase trying out a new environment of music that was previously mostly ridiculed by anyone who wasn’t already invested in the genre. I chose this song because while I definitely think her entire new record is worth getting into, it’s a bit heavy and personal and not as immediately gripping as this song, which feels almost like a Stevie Nicks kind of track, in my mind? Kacey has been doing a great deal of growth over her last few records (the progression from Golden Hour to here is enormous) and I think over the course of this record, you can find a little bit of everything. There’s a depth here that I think I wasn’t certain she was capable of. (YouTube)

Wisp — Enough For You

When I first heard this track’s opening, I said “holy shit.” I didn’t know what would come next, but the enormous and spacey chugging was exactly within my wheelhouse. It was a bullet with my name on it and as the whispy vocals entered, it only became more uniquely mine. I love this sound on both ends of the spectrum, but I think Wisp did an incredible job marrying the lightning and water on this track to create a spectacle I wasn’t quite ready for. This is my introduction to the band and there isn’t a great deal of information to find, so I’ve got my eyes WIDE open for more from her. EP drops April 5th. (YouTube)