The Must-Hear Songs by Phoenix Musicians of May 2022

Snailmate have returned with a kinetic new single.
Snailmate have returned with a kinetic new single. Valence Heartlock
It's not officially summer till June 21, but as we always do, Arizonans start "celebrating" early. (Hey, we've had 100-degree temperatures since May 7.) That honor doesn't really offer up many incentives, but it does mean that we get to start figuring out the real songs of summer a little earlier. May alone provided a weird and wonderful smorgasbord of specimens, with everything from off-kilter folk and experimental rap to snarling hardcore punk and covers of 20th-century labor ballads. The one thing uniting all these great but disparate tunes? They each just might make summer a tad more bearable.

Snailmate, 'It’s Coming Back'

We last heard from Snailmate with December 2021's release of their alternative Christmas jingle "Under My Tree." Now, the Phoenix duo, who have a busy summer of shows and other happenings planned, have released their latest, non-yuletide-related single, "It's Coming Back!" Fans of the rap-rock-mostly-undefinable duo will find plenty to enjoy in those big, extra crunchy drums; the light ambiance and atmospherics; and the rapid-fire, deeply vulnerable wordplay. Welcome back, indeed, gents.

I, the Tiger, 'One Wild Ride'

Ari Epstein's debut album as I, the Tiger, August 2020's Black Clouds, was a personal triumph over creative uncertainty and a declaration of music's true healing power. Epstein's personal journey will continue with the project's sophomore album, New Eyes, due out on July 1. The record's lead single, "One Wild Ride," seems to explore ideas of emotional catharsis and traversing the endless slog of self-doubt. It's a powerful call to arms for a change that ultimately begins within the individual.

Julianna Muse, 'I’m So Happy'

If someone like local pop upstart Talia Roya vouches for another artist, it's wise to take heed. Julianna Muse started her career as a dancer, and has since transitioned into a full-fledged singer-songwriter. Muse has released a handful of songs prior, and in May she returned with "I'm So Happy." This simple, bare-bones piano ballad may generate comparisons to a more deliberate Regina Spektor, but Muse's heart-wrenching croon, dripping with rich irony in this "uplifting ballad," deserves ample attention.

'Solidarity Forever'

The political leanings of AJJ are as obvious as their appreciation for dense lyrical constructs and the upright bass. In their latest effort, AJJ frontman Sean Bonnette has tackled a cover of "Solidarity Forever," a 1915 track from labor activist Ralph Chaplin that's since become the de facto anthem of the Industrial Workers of the World and other union movements. (The AJJ version was recorded for a short film titled Bald.) In Bonnette's more-than-capable hands, the song retains its essence — it's sung to the tune of "John Brown's Body" — albeit with just a touch more punk-ish vigor.

The Executed, 'DEMONSTRATION 2022'

If a band doesn't provide much info, it's a 50-50 shot that their music will be utter rubbish or deeply transcendent. In the case of The Executed, who have an Instagram that doesn't even work, they're mostly of the latter category. Their new song "DEMONSTRATION 2022," which sees an official cassette release in July, is the unholy love-child of rockabilly and hardcore, a track that will infect you with its rhythms and terrify you with its overall ferocity. Who said you need to know anything about great music to enjoy it?

Business/Casual, 'Miles 4 U'

This Phoenix trio — Marcus Myler, Carson Sheppard, and Errol Herrera — explain that there is "no general definition of Business/Casual." But if we were to take a crack based on "Miles 4 U," a standout from their seven-track Heat on the Hard Drive EP, a few options emerge. For instance, they're like a more nerdy, sentimental Beastie Boys. Or, a playful, non-ironic version of The Lonely Island. Either way, the only thing not utterly enjoyable about Business/Casual is their graphic design skills — ugh.

Someone, 'Tarried'

Not only does Someone prove to be another act light on information, but the image presented here screams, "Giant weirdo locked in their darkened apartment." But that's actually a compliment, and the project's nine-song on Death, Sonny's blue EP is a powerful little artifact of extra lo-fi, hugely personal acoustic folk. Case in point: "Tarried," where those sparse, haunting guitars and mutant pop star vocals forge a song that's as unsettling as it is emotionally effective. Thanks, you weird and beautiful stranger.

Midsummer, 'Beachball'

Within the project's Bandcamp page, Phoenix's Midsummer has just one sentence listed down: "I'm still alive." And that's a good thing, mostly, or we wouldn't be treated to their latest instrumental tape, the 10-track Luau. Don't expect a playful soundtrack of hula music or chilled vibes. No, Midsummer's approach to instrumental hip-hop is exemplified in a song like "Beachball" — all discordant sounds and harsh samples that are only fit for a pool party if it took place within some alternate hell dimension.

Nullingroots, 'The Changes that Ensue'

Local metal/blackgaze fans may be especially overjoyed to see the return of Nullingroots (aka Cameron Boesch). The outfit effectively spent the last three-ish years on radio silence, but has since roared back with a two-song EP while reportedly preparing a new full-length. "Shrouds of Celeste" is an expanded 14-minute track from early 2015. Meanwhile, put your focus on "The Changes that Ensue" — not only is it a mere seven minutes, but there's a bit more oomph and directness than its companion track lacks, and that makes for an all the more compelling, ear-shattering experience.

Mystery Castle, 'Silurian cascade'

Mystery Castle is something of an enigma. No, really — the project is self-described as "Mystery Castle {printf("is baby"\n); return 0;}." But if you really want to crack that proverbial nut, you need only listen to their latest single, "Silurian cascade." Here, strands of indie pop, ambient, and electronic are layered together to forge this slow, methodical stream of noise that's profoundly soothing without ever feeling any less compelling. Now, just get your coding on point, and you'll be a real star, Mystery Castle.

Emby Alexander, 'Minnesota Pop'

Phoenix rock band Emby Alexander have a term for their sound: tallwave. And, sure, it’s a slightly silly name, but it captures the sort of brightness, volume, and playfulness that goes into their hybrid baroque pop-psychedelic-alternative-garage rock. But at the end of the day, genres don’t matter when their latest album, SOARS ERA, is filled with standout songs like "Minnesota Pop." If you manage to make it through all that heavy noise upfront, you'll be treated to a wild and whimsical deluge of strange and charming folk pop. It's the perfect sonic commentary on the LP and band as a whole.

CHYMISTRY, 'Barely Asphalt'

It’s hard to tell what we like most about CHYMISTRY. Is it that they’re described as "Spaghetti Illuminati Terrorists?" Or that they've released several EPs and LPs with manic frequency? Maybe it's song titles like "It’s Time To Change The Station (Because Love Songs Are Dead)," from May’s Reflexions, Refractions, Inflexions and Colours of Light. Ultimately, it’s the music — more specifically, "Barely Asphalt." Because rather than proving to be a jarring mix of lo-fi electro-jazz and blown-out vocoder pop, the song doubles down on that wild, uneven mix of ideas to prove extra appealing.

Dead Lincoln, 'seafoam'

Don’t let anything about this project — that they’re called Dead Lincoln; that there’s an evil fox on the cover of eighth house; or that their band photo just might be possessed — scare you away. The music itself is actually quite beguiling, and that’s never more clear than with the 10-track effort's undisputed standout, "seafoam." With a nearly hypnotic mix of string samples, ethereal vocals, and delicate drums, it's the sonic equivalent of diving through some magical alien ocean.

Dadadoh + The POC, 'Pockets'

Yes, the latest from Dadadoh + The POC did come out in late April. But we can make an exception when the group, led rapper/singer/general A-lister Bryan Preston, describe the nine-track HOOLIGANS as the "audio version of a reality show that is the Phoenix music scene." So, which aural element of the Valley should you focus your ears and attention on? That would be "Pockets." Because with its dissonant surf-rock vibes, lyrics about the endless grind, and a touch of darkness, it's a nearly perfect Phoenix anthem.
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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.
Contact: Chris Coplan