The 15 Best Songs of August 2020

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The 15 Best Songs of August 2020

It’s finally September, which means we’ll soon be saying ta-ta to summer and hello to cooler temperatures, pumpkin spice (if you’re into that) and a whole bunch of new music. But before we get to that, let’s look back on the last scorching month of summer. Here are all the best songs from August 2020, featuring new songs from old favorites like Sufjan Stevens and The Avett Brothers as well as soon-to-be classics from newer faces like Samia and Tomberlin.

1. Adia Victoria: “South Gotta Change”

Produced by T-Bone Burnett, “South Gotta Change” combines folk and rock influences to propel Adia Victoria’s hopes for the future of the South. The song was inspired by the loss of Congressman John Lewis this year, as his messages and accomplishments were a guiding light to many. “South Gotta Change” is a prayer, an affirmation, and a battle cry all at once,” Victoria said of the song. “It is a promise to engage in the kind of “good trouble” John Lewis understood necessary to form a more perfect union. No other place embodies the American experiment with the precision of the South. It is home to both unspeakable horror and unshakable faith. It is up to us, those who are blessed enough to be Southern, to take up the mantle Brother Lewis left us. As the old saying goes, “As the South goes, so goes the nation.” —Lexi Lane

2. Angel Olsen: “Waving, Smiling”

A single from her recently released album Whole New Mess, “Waving, Smiling,” finds Angel Olsen emotionally dissecting the past and future as a songwriter. Accompanied with a haunting live performance, Olsen elevated the single release with a video filmed in Asheville’s Masonic Temple, where her powerful, stripped-down vocals are placed at the forefront. ”’Waving, Smiling’ in my head is the last scene, a slow motion realization of love not lost but at peace somewhere within myself,” Olsen says. “It’s the bittersweet end of a chapter of my life – it is the final acceptance that despite coming to an end all of that time was not lost or wasted.” —Lexi Lane

3. The Avett Brothers: “Untitled #4”

“Untitled 4” is fittingly the thematic and sonic center of The Third Gleam. The message is “less is more,” and while Scott and Seth Avett may have been exploring that idea throughout their last album Closer Than Together, too (i.e. disavowing action movies and media violence on “Bang Bang”), their message is clearer on “Untitled 4” because it’s more personal. “I don’t need to leave this small town / It don’t matter where I’m at,” they sing. “I finally learned what I need to know / I’m happier with nothing.” Scott and Seth still live in Concord, N.C., outside Charlotte, and based on images from their 2017 documentary May It Last, their homes are secluded. They’re happy where they are, and that admission of contentment is powerful. —Ellen Johnson

4. Caylee Hammack: “Looking For A Lighter”

On “Looking For A Lighter,” one of the best songs on her new record If It Wasn’t For You, Hammack rummages around her mind trying to conjure memories of a burnt-out relationship like one might shuffle through the junk drawer looking for the emergency cigarettes and a light. But she knows this failed relationship isn’t any better for her health than a smoking habit, singing “I’m burning for you so bad, bad, bad / Your love is a drag, it’s a drag, it’s a drag.” Hammack takes the fire theme and really runs with it, but it works. —Ellen Johnson

5. Clipping: “Say the Name”

The experimental hip-hop group recently Clipping announced a new album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, which will arrive Oct. 23 via Sub Pop. The band also shared the album’s first single, “Say the Name.” The forthcoming album serves as the follow-up to their horrorcore-inspired 2019 release There Existed an Addiction to Blood, which we featured in our best albums of the week roundup. Clipping consists of rapper Daveed Diggs (who you know from Hamilton), and producers Jonathan Snipes and William Hutson. —Paris Rosenthal

6. Ela Minus: “el cielo es de nadie”

Ela Minus has dabbled in various scenes, with influences ranging from hardcore to an education in jazz. On “el cielo es de nadie,” she opts instead for a hypnotic electro sound. Layered on top of a flashing club beat are light, calming vocals from Minus, adding to the song’s capability to entrance each listener. “’el cielo no es de nadie’ is about all the love I see in small, everyday acts,” Minus says. “It’s an invitation to appreciate unheroic, but constant and meaningful actions. The song’s title, ‘el cielo no es de nadie,’ refers to the phrase ‘I’ll give you the sky,’ a common expression used in Spanish when in love. In the song, I defy it: ‘you can’t give me the sky’ / it isn’t yours to give.” —Lexi Lane

7. Future Islands: “Thrill”

As Long As You Are will be Future Islands’ sixth full-length LP and will arrive on Oct. 9 via 4AD. The band will also perform a live-streamed concert on the day of release. This news arrived in tandem with a new single, “Thrill,” and its music video starring and created by frontman Samuel T. Herring, which you can check out below. The new single follows previously released single “For Sure,” which will also appear on the album. “Thrill” is slower and sparkling, a true synth ballad delivered by an emotional Herring. Future Islands’ most recent album was 2017’s The Far Field. —Ellen Johnson

8. Lomelda: “Hannah Sun”

Lomelda, the stage name of Hannah Read, this month shared the new single “Hannah Sun.” After releasing “Wonder” and “It’s Infinite,” this is Hannah’s third and final preview of her upcoming album, Hannah, out Sept. 4 via Double Double Whammy. “This song was written for 3 maybe 4 listeners to hear,” Read said. “But boomer Hannah forgot how the internet works and performed it on YouTube. Now it is for everyone. I am glad that people want to listen to this song, but I don’t understand why they want to.” —Paris Rosenthal

9. Ruston Kelly: “In The Blue”

“In The Blue,” the album opener from Ruston Kelly’s recently released second LP Shape & Destroy, is another bright and catchy folk-rock redemption song that follows lots of lines about searching and mending with this couplet: “I’ve got a woman, her hands are gold / Carries the sun to me when I’m cold and afraid.” —Ben Salmon

10. Samia: “Triptych”

“Triptych” spins a story of conflicting emotions mixed with a layer of historical inspiration through indie-esque vocals resembling the likes of Clairo and Soccer Mommy. “I wrote ‘Triptych’ sobbing in a green room in Denver,” Samia said. “I’d just read the story of Francis Bacon and his lover/muse, George Dyer, whose chaotic lifestyle served as Bacon’s artistic inspiration. George Dyer overdosed in the bathroom of a hotel room paid for by Bacon, who famously painted a triptych of his lover’s final moments. I had just been through a pretty tough breakup and felt I might be purposefully getting myself into dicey situations to justify my big feelings and write about them. ‘Triptych’ was a pretty blatant cry for help and an opportunity to confess my fear of being misunderstood.” —Lexi Lane

11. Sufjan Stevens: “Video Game”

Stevens recently unveiled the second single from his new album The Ascension, “Video Game,” with a clip directed by Nicole Ginelli. The video was choreographed by and stars Jalaiah Harmon—the teen behind the viral “Renegade” dance. Much like “America,” “Video Game” relies on electronic instrumentation, but it’s less atmospheric and centers more on compressed ’80s pop and contemporary synthwave. Stevens’ vocals are heavily filtered as he sings about rejecting the desire for validation: “I don’t wanna be the center of the universe / I don’t wanna be a part of that shame / In a way I wanna be my own redeemer / I don’t wanna play your video game.” —Lizzie Manno

12. Tomberlin: “Wasted”

Tomberlin, aka singer/songwriter Sarah Beth Tomberlin, has announced a new EP, Projections , out on Oct. 16 via Saddle Creek. Armed with an off-kilter drum beat, the EP’s lead single “Wasted” navigates conflicting feelings of infatuation and caution. The song’s final lines make it an essential for nights of summer yearning: “You made me smile / But could you spell it out for me? / You say you shouldn’t have to / I know you shouldn’t have to.” The pretty, emotionally perceptive tune contains the same melodic ease as her debut, resulting in similar waves of comfort. —Lizzie Manno

13. TRAAMS: “The Greyhound”

U.K. post-punk trio TRAAMS are back with their first new material in nearly five years. The band have shared a new single called “The Greyhound,” which follows their 2015 album Modern Dancing. It’s the first track from a collection of three new songs, which will be released later this year. Throughout their career, they’ve traversed spasmodic post-punk, noise punk à la Women and hypnotic krautrock. On “The Greyhound,” their near-10-minute new track, they fold all those sounds into one. It’s got a monochromatic drive, vocals that range from bleak to spirited and a fuse that might blow at any second. It also features Lewis Evans of Black Country, New Road on saxophone. —Lizzie Manno

14. Yung: “New Fast Song”

Danish quartet Yung recently shared the new track “New Fast Song,” taken from their forthcoming seven-inch single titled Progress, out on Sept. 11 via PNKSLM Recordings. It’s their first release since their 2016 debut LP A Youthful Dream, released on Fat Possum. “New Fast Song,” the b-side to the seven-inch title track, is a return to the melodic indie of their debut LP, but there’s less distortion and more warmth this time around. “We keep falling / but I really never see it that way,” they sing with passion over the closing guitar throttle. There’s a sense of poignant restlessness, but a satisfying vigor underpins it all. —Lizzie Manno

15. Ziemba: “True Romantic”

Ziemba, also known as René Kladzyk, has shared two lead singles from her forthcoming album, True Romantic, out Sept. 25 on Sister Polygon. The two most recent tracks—“True Romantic” and “If I’m Being Honest”—follow 2019’s experimental record ARDIS, inspired by “speculative science fiction, feminist geography, and the feeling of ecstasy that can happen when a bunch of people are singing together.” Ziemba says True Romantic is all about “sitting with really embarrassing feelings, and then giving myself a pep talk that it’s okay to do that.” —Lia Pikus