From infectious grooves to white-hot metalcore: here are this week's essential guitar tracks

Courtney Barnett performs live in London on February 12, 2014
(Image credit: Andy Sheppard/Redferns/Getty Images)

Summer’s in full swing, sure, but is your 2021 summer playlist where you want it to be yet? 

Even if it is, you might wanna make some room for the fantastic new songs we've discovered in the course of our recent travels. 

These include a gorgeous piece of melodic shoegaze from up-and-comers Wednesday, some white-hot metalcore from Employed to Serve, an infectious groove-fest from Chicano Batman, some perfect-for-the-season soul-infused indie from Painted Shield, and a whole lot more.

So take a look, and find some new musical companions with whom to beat the heat.

Courtney Barnett – Rae Street

One of the brightest talents to emerge from Down Under in the 21st century, Courtney Barnett has made a lasting impression with plainspoken songs that home in on seemingly ordinary everyday moments and spin them into introspective, thought-provoking ruminations on the weightiest of topics.

On that front, Rae Street the lead single from her upcoming third album, Things Take Time, Take Time – shows Barnett in vintage lyrical form.

Though devoid of fireworks, her riffwork is also rock-solid on the track, with her trademark guitar tone – firm, with a nice but subtle touch of dirt – powering the mid-tempo rocker throughout. (JM)

Employed to Serve – Exist

And serving up this week’s fresh dose of metalcore is, um, Employed to Serve. Ahead of their recently announced fourth studio album Conquering – and on the heels of their monstrous main stage performance at Download’s Pilot Festival last month – this highly promising UK export has unleashed Exist.

A masterclass in modern metal – with no shortage of speaker-rattling chugs, wailing pinch harmonics and truly killer vocals courtesy of bandleader Justine Jones – this track once again establishes Employed to Serve as a frontrunner in the scene.

It really has everything, too: after two-and-a-half minutes of downtempo destruction, Exist kicks things up several gears, undergoing a rapid increase in tempo which paves the way for David Porter to let loose with a face-melting guitar solo.

Exist is a song that celebrates the highs and lows of existing,” Jones says. “For this video, I really wanted to capture the excitement of being a pre-teen and discovering the absolute joy that is music. I loved the idea of getting into someone's head at that time and them daydreaming about being on stage with the band you love, like we did when we were that age and recently in the past year when we couldn't play shows!” (SR)

Sam Fender – Seventeen Going Under 

Few singer-songwriters find themselves thrust into the limelight as quickly as Sam Fender. His quite simply superb debut album, Hypersonic Missiles, which was populated with guitar-heavy throwbacks harking back to the golden era of Britpop, broke all kinds of records, won him over legions of fans across generations and bagged him a host of prestigious awards.

With his new single, Seventeen Going Under, Fender is showing no sign of sophomore album syndrome, and has ushered in the news of his second record with an infectious indie rock lungbuster that is up there with the very best of his repertoire. 

Clinging to the youthful innocence and easy-going sonic arrangements he’s already celebrated for, yet writing from a more mature, reflective perspective, Fender vocalizes the trials and tribulations of his adolescence against a wall of gorgeously constructed heart-swelling guitar hooks and huge, chime-y six-string layers.

It’s time to stop labeling Sam Fender as “the next big thing”. He’s already one of the biggest things in his respective genre, and he’s here right now. (MO)

Leprous – Running Low

Norwegian prog behemoths Leprous recently announced their seventh album, Aphelion, and Running Low is about as epic as they’ve ever sounded.

The sweeping strings help, no doubt, but the crunching guitars of Tor Oddmund Suhrke and Robin Ognedal provide the track’s most satisfying moments, adopting a borderline funkier approach that reinvents Leprous’s sound once again, before bringing it home at the track’s thunderous conclusion – which comes complete with brass section.

Fortunately, Leprous can never go one reinvention too far – their musicianship is always in step with their ambition, and we can’t wait to hear where Aphelion takes them next. (MAB)

Wednesday – One More Last One

Built around the arresting songwriting and vocals of Karly Hartzman, and a huge range of influences that includes shoegaze and the campfire country Hartzman grew up on, Asheville, North Carolina’s Wednesday probably won’t fly under the radar much longer.

One More Last One – the latest single from the band’s upcoming album, Twin Plagues – features the band’s lap steel player, Xandy Chelmis, taking the mic. 

The blanket of numbing distortion that surrounds the song will be warmly familiar to any shoegaze aficionado, but dig a little deeper and you’ll hear how Hartzman, guitarist Jake Lenderman and Chelmis perfectly blend monster power chords, blissful dissonance and aching, melodic cries into one beautifully cohesive whole.

Put this one on loud, and let the longest and hottest afternoons of the season drift slowly by. (JM)

Painted Shield - 4th of July

The 4th and its accompanying holiday are behind us, but you’d be remiss to sleep on this surprise single from the Stone Gossard and Mason Jennings-led project.

Fueled by a furious beat from drummer Matt Chamberlain and the rich organ tones of Brittany Davis, this soul-infused indie-rocker builds on the heady sound of the group's debut record, and finds Gossard grooving on a fuzzed-up riff that’s up there with his finest output this century.

During our excitable chat with Gossard and Jennings last year, we got the sense that Painted Shield would be a going concern, and the news that a new album is slated for release next year will quite literally be music to the ears of Stone fans tired of the long waits between Pearl Jam albums. (MAB)

Zach Tabori – Get Out (I’m Ready) 

We’re edging closer and closer to the day in which Covid-induced restrictions and lockdowns are lifted, and so a suitable celebratory musical playlist is in order. No matter what your own particular stylistic sensibilities may be, we’d wager that Zach Tabori’s post-pandemic-inspired romp Get Out (I’m Ready) will find itself right at home among that collection.

Perhaps somewhat appropriately described by the guitar-slinging singer-songwriter as an “experiment”, the track has a little bit of everything – ELO-style over-produced backing vocals, octave-drenched Queen-esque lead interludes, light-hearted Bruno Mars-inspired rap passages, high-gain guitar strum thrashes… you get the picture. There’s a lot going on.

But, despite its overloaded arrangement, it never feels too much, and it never feels overwhelming. In fact, it all joins together like some magnificently crafted tapestry of eclectic influences, stitched together with surgical precision. Would labeling it a work of art be going too far? Take a listen and see for yourself, though, whatever it is, it’s guaranteed to be exactly what you signed up for – one helluva good time. (MO)

JP Saxe – Here’s Hopin’

How many breakout artists can say that their debut album was so good it caught the attention of John Mayer, who liked it so much he wanted to join them on The Late Show for a live rendition of one of their tracks? We’d be guessing, but we'd probably guess not very many.

Appearing on Saxe’s not-to-be-missed debut album Dangerous Levels of Introspection, the studio version of Here’s Hopin’ is every bit as special as the recently released Mayer-infused live version. The 28-year-old singer-songwriter takes the opportunity to flex his own versatile soulful six-string chops and formidable phrasing powers, which ooze with the melodicism and feel of a seasoned blues-pop guitar player.

Very much a guitarist to be reckoned with in his own right, the track also puts on display Saxe’s keen acoustic chordal prowess, gliding up and down the fretboard to pair open string chimes with melodic root note rhythms. Though Saxe is a selective songwriter, here’s hoping he treats his future offerings to much more of the same six-string lead playing as he puts on display here. (MO)

Chicano Batman – Pastel Sunrise 

Chicano Batman have returned to the scene with their first musical offering since their 2020 album Invisible People, the groove-infused single Pastel Sunrise

Employing a ridiculously rhythmic, body swaying-inducing drum beat and a bassline that would give Tame Impala a run for their money, Pastel Sunrise calls upon a plethora of sonic layers, all working together to create a subtly psychedelic, oh-so soulful soundscape filled with vocal-mirroring modulated guitar leads, treble-y bridge pickup trills and enveloping synths.

Released alongside the band’s equally infectious A-side single Dark Star, Chicano Batman seem to be back better than ever. Watch this space for future offerings – you aren’t going to want to miss them. (MO)

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Matt Owen

Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.