Listen To This: With a ‘Pang,’ Caroline Polachek is back

Read about this week’s most notable singles by Caroline Polachek, Katie Gregson-MacLeod and more.


Susan Behrends Valenzuela

(Illustration by Susan Behrends Valenzuela)

Listen To This took a brief hiatus, but fear not — we’re back. This week, we’ve rounded up some of the best indie pop and rock singles from the last fortnight. Read on for more.

“Grapevine” by Weyes Blood

Holden Lay, Staff Writer

Weyes Blood’s endearing new single, “Grapevine,” is a confident assertion of her stylistic evolution. Her latest finds her marrying the glamorous intimacy and cosmic fascinations of her last record, 2019’s “Titanic Rising,” with a more restrained, acoustically-driven folk-pop style. At times, this direction calls to mind the delicately constructed melodies and orchestrations of recent collaborators Father John Misty and Tim Heidecker, but this isn’t to say that her gorgeous work is anything but fiercely original. Singing “California’s my body / And your fire runs over me / My car broke down in an old ghost town / Right around where they got James Dean,” Natalie Mering’s eclectic and omnivorous pop culture songwriting lends itself to winding verses that paint vivid images. In this case, she finds a desolate isolation in the gridlock of Los Angeles’s I-5 highway. Mering is one of the most unique songwriters today, and the stripped back sound of “Grapevine” beautifully displays some of her most memorable work yet. Although not as blaringly all-encompassing as some of her past work, by holding back a little, it becomes all the more arresting when she hits full blast.

“Sunset” by Caroline Polachek

Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer, Arts Editor

It’s funny that Caroline Polachek has released a song titled “Sunset” given how much of her discography seems more in tune with the peculiar sensibilities of twilight. At least that was the case when “Pang” struck the world with its concentrated dose of yearning in 2019. But as the Manhattanite singer-songwriter moves into poppier territory, trading her melancholy musings for jaunty caroling, she’s begun to rework her image as an artist. Doing so, she’s also begun to slightly shift the tides of popular music toward a happier, more serene direction that counters the sad pop that soundtracked the more heightened periods of the pandemic. In her soft singing, newfound repetitive simplicity and flamenco-esque string production, it’s as though Polachek is bringing a new ideal for a post-pandemic, post-capitalist, post-everything-bad world into view. As the sun sets on the timeworn depression of the modern age, Polachek offers a hopeful vision of the future with her mirthful music. 

“Somnambulist Blues” by Destroyer featuring Sandro Perri

Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer, Arts Editor

Moving into moodier, more literary domains, Destroyer’s latest collaboration with artist Sandro Perri is less of a song and more of a game. It’s a game in that its components are very much on display: its repetitive and droning bass, inspirations, and metric flow. And, in that it often taunts the listener into believing they’re listening to a regular song whose lyrical movement should tell a story. But that’s not the case. As its title suggests, the song’s fashionings are more in line with the tendencies of automatic writing attributed to the surrealists, the paragon art movement associated with dreams, sleeping and, well, somnambulism. Having seemingly given up on singing and taking on a much more conversational baritone, Destroyer tumbles through a series of flowery stanzas as though picking images from a dream. Stitching the lines “A rose by any other name / A tinker’s fuck / Oh where, oh where have you been,” into a unitary flow of verses and then, ostensibly veering into musings on Welsh cinema provocateur Peter Greenaway, Destroyer designs a tortuous odyssey through his head that exemplifies music’s ability to take listeners on a journey through time. 

“complex” by Katie Gregson-MacLeod

Yas Akdag, Music Editor

In August, Scottish singer-songwriter Katie Gregson-MacLeod quietly uploaded a TikTok of her latest composition “complex.” It was bare and beautiful — a soft, regretful reflection on a past relationship led only by piano and her deep, rich vocals. The video quickly exploded on the app, especially after she created a version to duet with. Artists from FLETCHER to JP Saxe lent their own interpretations to the song, and it soon became impossible to ignore Gregson-MacLeod. Sony Music Entertainment offered her a record deal, and she signed. Now in its fully-formed version, “Complex” is her first studio single on the label — but thankfully, it doesn’t stray too far from the song’s demo. Produced by industry stalwart Greg Kurstin, Gregson-MacLeod’s vocals still sit front and center, accompanied by dark, wistful piano chords. “I’m wearing his boxers / I’m being a good wife / We won’t be together / But maybe the next life,” she sings. As the song builds, subtle drums pulse underneath as well as sustained pads and layered vocal harmonies. Gregson-MacLeod wraps up singing, “I need like him water / He thinks that I’m alright / I’m not feeling human / I think he’s a good guy,” before confirming it’s all just complex.

Contact the music editor at [email protected].