Talia Roya's new single is "Keep Talking."Zee Peralta
Sometimes in assembling these lists, a theme somehow emerges. Maybe that's a certain musical tone and/or quality, or seasonally appropriate selections a la Valentine's Day. But for October 2021, despite this being peak spooky season, another theme emerged entirely: pioneers. More specifically, this genre-spanning collection sees artists going it on their own, often paving a way through the desert toward new ideas and understandings. Here are our picks for the best songs of the month.
Talia Roya, 'Keep Talking'
The return of multi-faceted singer/songwriter Talia Roya rolls on with the release of another new single. "Keep Talking," as she told Phoenix New Times back in September, is also the result of her recent slate of collaborations with regional artists, specifically writer/producer Austin Parker Jones. And much like its predecessor, the charming "Ripe," this new single see Roya's artistry placed front and center as she crafts a poignant anthem addressing themes of self-empowerment and emotional frankness. (The accompanying video adds to that by depicting Roya alone in a picturesque desert.) Maybe it doesn't have the same oomph as "Ripe," but it's another powerful pop-rock ballad from someone clearly on the rise.
Nass Zuruck, 'Ice Age'
Phoenix’s Zombiewoof Records has been featured a handful of times for its catalog that spans death metal to hip-hop and beyond. Now, the label shows off its true eclecticism by releasing the 18-track Tunes of Terror Vol. 2. There’s plenty of great standout tracks, like the creepy electro of KILURX's "Scare," the rollicking pop-punk of Toby Danger's "All Hallows' Steve," and the spooky grooves of First Chair's "Dead of Night." But the undisputed gem is Nass Zuruck's cover of Joy Division's "Ice Age." This L.A.-based post-punk band have transformed the song into some weird, DIY electro jam that draws its power and pure terror from its own sheer weirdness. Is this compilation, as the label promises, the "greatest Halloween playlist of all-time?" Maybe, but it'll certainly worry the parents of every single trick-or-treater.
King Summer, 'Hell on Earth'
Yes, our beloved Copper State technically has an anthem — two of them, in fact. But "Arizona March Song" dates way back to 1919, and the alternate, Rex Allen, Jr.’s "Arizona," is simply far too hokey. If we’re looking for an update, then, we need only turn to "Hell on Earth" by Phoenix’s own King Summer. The so-called "desert boy band" have written a song that perfectly encapsulates this city, with lines about how it's "Hell on Earth, we're the lucky few" and that it "doesn't matter if there's nothing to do/Melting hearts, we got nothing to lose." It’s a profound dissection of the strange beauty found within desert life, and how we balance good and bad in measure — all set to some extra jangly indie pop. If they ever played this at an Arizona Cardinals game, you’d be obligated to stand up and salute the state flag.
Asphalt Astronaut, 'kelpie queen'
We last checked in on Jessica Tanner, aka Asphalt Astronaut, in December 2020 with the release of her debut album, antares. Now, less than a year later, she makes further waves beyond her hometown of Tucson with album No. 2, andromeda. The entire 10-track LP is worthy of your time, but pay special attention to "kelpie queen." Here, Tanner is at the peak of her beguiling powers, slowly unfurling this delicate piece of bare-bones pop powered by the lightest instrumentation and her singular vocals. It's an experience that will break your heart with its sheer beauty, and remind you that even the most gentle creations have the most immense power. It’s another truly fine achievement for a dynamic young talent.
Maze Overlay, 'Borderlands'
Local rapper Maze Overlay clearly recognizes the shape of life in Arizona and the Southwest at large. He describes his new song/video for "Borderlands," the crown jewel of his Border Kids full-length, as "shedding light on an untold story" of how "Mexican culture runs deep in Phoenix." And it’s a deeply compelling story that Overlay spins, with his slightly raspy flow delivering a tale of community and survival set against the bare-bones production of VH$. The visuals add a ton, and seeing Overlay hanging at border towns really drives home the cultural significance of Mexican heritage to our shared way of life. It’s not always easy to try and explain Arizona to outsiders, but this MC does so with heart and creativity galore.
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Chris Coplan has been a professional writer since the 2010s, having started his professional career at Consequence of Sound. Since then, he's also been published with TIME, Complex, and other outlets. He lives in Central Phoenix with his fiancee, a dumb but lovable dog, and two bossy cats.