I began my yearly Pop music wrap-up with Part 1 yesterday, re-capping most of my thoughts about the year in general and broached my favorite 25 songs of the year. Today I continue with my favorite LPs 175-101 listed, and then capsule reviews of 100-51 (in 25 LP increments). Part 3, 50-26 is here (the final installment, Part 4, covers records 25-1 and is here). Enjoy and Happy listening.
101 – 175
Bob Dylan – Rough and Rowdy Ways
Greg Puciato – Fuck Content
’68 – Love is Ain’t Dead. (ep)
Dead Famous People – Harry
True Body – Heavenly Rhythms for the Uninitiated
Skeleton – Skeleton
Drain – California Cursed
Namatay Sa Ingay – Ang Talim ng Galit (ep)
Lunchbox – After School Special
Oily Boys – Cro Memory Grin
Bootlicker – How to Love Life (ep)
Mister – Espejismo (7 in. ep)
Misanthropic Minds – Welcome to the Homeland (ep)
Boris – NO
Tommy and the Commies – Hurtin’ for Certain (ep)
Dame – Dame
Tough Age – Which Way Am I?
the Blinders – Fantasies of a Stay At Home Psychopath
Torres – Silver Tongue
Destroyer – Have We Met
Guided by Voices – Mirrored Aztec
Junglepussy – JP4
Angel Olsen – Whole New Mess
Shopping – All Or Nothing
Lithics – Tower of Age
Stroppies – Look Alive!
Deerhoof – Future Teenage Cave Artists
Working Men’s Club – Working Men’s Club
No Home – Fucking Home
Muro – Pacificar
KeyDaIntro – Fleeting Thoughts
Jehnny Beth – To Love Is To Live
Hilary Woods – Birthmarks
ADULT. – Perception is/as/of Decepbedtion
USA Nails – Character Stop
Erik Nervous & the Beta Blockers – Erik Nervous & the Beta Blockers
Exploding Flowers – Stumbling
Touché Amoré – Lament
No Age – Goons Be Gone
Los Blenders – Mazunte 2016
clipping. – Visions of Bodies Being Burned
Moaning – Uneasy Laughter
Chamber – Cost of Sacrifice
Privacy Issues – Privacy Issues
Sniffany and the Nits – The Greatest Nits (ep)
Population II – À La Ô Terre
Even as We Speak – Adelphi
Jonathan Bree – After the Curtains Close
Gen Pop – PPM66
Ribbon Stage – My Favorite Stage (ep)
C.H.E.W. – In Due Time (ep)
GRID – Decomposing Force
Raspberry Bulbs – Before the Age of Mirrors
Urlaub in Polen – All
Buttertones – Jazzhound
Pink Siifu – NEGRO
Hazel English – Wake UP!
Old 97’s – Twelfth
Boris & Merzbow – 2R0I2P0
Supercrush – SODO Pop
Botany – End of the Summertime F(or)ever
Impotentie – Leopold II is Niet Dood Genoeg
Rolling Blackouts C.F. – Sideways to New Italy
Dark Quarterer – Pompei
Primitive Man – Immersion
Will Butler – Generations
The Sorcerers – In Search of the Lost City of the Monkey God
US Girls – Heavy Light
Bully – SUGAREGG
Abigor – Totschläger (A Saintslayer’s Songbook)
Snowgoose – The Making of You
Mr. Elevator – Goodbye, Blue Sky
Neutrals – Rent/Your House (ep)
Squarepusher – Lamental (ep) and Be Up a Hello
Mint Field – Sentimiento Mundial
Armand Hammer – Shrines
76 – 100
Ganser – Just Look At That Sky
Chicago’s Ganser, who I’ve caught several times but never paid to actually seen them, the result of their inclusion at the top of a number of bills over the years. You hear Just Look At the Sky, their best yet, and you understand why, it covers a number of interesting styles and textures, at times moody and atmospheric (‘Emergency Equipment and Exits’, ‘Bags For Life’), elsewhere quite energetic and bouncy (‘Told You So’, the zooming ‘Projector’), and even adding a few noisy, more experimental tracks (‘Shadowcasting’ and ‘[NO YES]’) for good measure. The consistent thread being their attuned song-craft, which we initially glimpse at the start of the record’s ‘Lucky’ and ‘Self Service’ tandem, where a collection of nagging riffs accompany a low boil rhythm section that eventually simmers up into a wail, matched perhaps only by ‘Bad Form’ elsewhere on the LP, it’s a constantly interesting affair.
2nd Grade – Hit to Hit
You don’t really get records like 2nd Grade’s newest, a behemoth of 25 snappy Punk Pop tracks, but it sails from the usual Dookie and Enema of the State references right in the laps of the all those forgotten AM radio Power Pop bands of the early 1970’s. A saccharine treat, that by the time you get to ‘Baby’s First Word’, the power knocks you on your 6.
Smut – First Kiss
Here’s a sprint, a record all of 14 minutes or so, a punk recording with the levels in the red, noise bleeding across the channels into a distorted mass. Based on the song titles—the equal parts bubbling and slashing ‘Cum Inside’, the rapid ‘First Kiss’, and the staccato ‘The Stranger’—you imagine it’s quite a wonderfully filthy affair and in a blink it’s over. Then you hit repeat and do it all again.
Geld – Beyond the Floor
Melbourne, Australia’s Geld calls their dense, aggressive take on Metal ‘Psychedelic Hardcore’, which seems apt; buried beneath their frenzied punkish onslaught are thick, classic rock stoner riffs. Sometimes the styles converge at once—check out the great breakdown that splits ‘Wild Bomb’ in half, or the groove that builds ‘Forces at Work’ for example—and Geld show themselves to be onto something quite original.
Cabbage – Amanita Pantherina
The Northern English Post-punk pranksters are back with their second LP full of politically minded, if often irreverent, anthems. After 2018’s full-length debut, Nihilistic Glamour Shots announced them as a band to follow, its follow up is again a wildly good time, vastly broodening their sonic palette—‘You’ve Made An Art Form (From Falling to Pieces)’ and sure fire single, ‘Direct-Dictate’ are anthemic and hooky, while ‘Once Upon a Time In the North’ broaches keyboard amidst its chugging band ensemble. Again they tackle Brexit (‘Raus!’) while never letting things get too dire (‘I Was A Teenage Insect’ which sounds like a Stranglers out take, and ‘Piles of Smiles’).
Deftones – Ohms
Deftones’ newest, Ohms, their first since 2016’s Gore, surprised me; while many in my generation have hailed White Pony as a masterwork since its release, it largely never did much for me so I’ve remained mostly ambivalent to their catalogue as a whole. But here I am digging a Deftones LP, nodding along to the titanic riffing of ‘Urantia’, or its cousin, the chugging’ Radiant City’, but it’s the ethereal material like ‘The Spell of Mathematics’ that truly opens the work up. Were they always this late-era Smashing Pumpkin’s sounding? I’ll have to go back.
bdrmm – Bedroom
I imagine this is music created for a relatively good time, it’s dreamy and evocative, if a tad mournful and gloomy, but nonetheless delivered with pleasant smiles and glowing guitars. Perhaps, if you take it with the other shoegaze adjacent releases this year (bdrmm, Nothing, Ringo Deathstarr, Zoon) you see a trend: in an otherwise bleak year, one of the more inward, depressive genres offered a bevy of uplifting, soaring guitar odes.
Mohit – Preface
topographies – Ideal Form
An attractive cover will go a long way for a new record from an unknown band breaking through the endless deluge of new, good records that appear weekly for me. Devoid of a single word, or letters tilting it, the mere glimpse of the scratched, thickly painted cover for the London’s avant-garde art-rockers Mohit debut did just that. It’s the sort of painting I dig, which I found was a good primer for the set of building post-rock epics that Mohit had buried within. Similar in visual appeal was topographies cover for Ideal Form, an interesting play on mirror surfaces and textures, an accurate approximation of their Post-Punk sensibility that mixed and matched genres from synth driven atmospheric New Wave to darkly romantic bass-driven Pop. (another record cover I loved was the Francis Bacon riff of Sondre Lerche’s Patience, and the music inside was good too)
Fluistereraars – Bloem
Nachtmystium used to call their highly unique take on Black Metal ‘Black Meddle’, in that they saw the genre as still an open-ended question to which they could ‘meddle’ and mix in a number of new and interesting styles outside the established, expected template. ‘Your True Enemy’ (from 2008’s Assassins: Black Meddle, Pt. I) was the closest thing I could recall when hearing Fluisteraars’ newest, a beautiful record that they call ‘blackened psychedelic folk-rock’ rather than straight forward Black Metal. Sure, I hear that.
Permanent Collection – Nothing Good Is Normal
Fuzzed up punk with Wall of Sound Shoegaze leanings, Permanent Collection is Seattle native Jason Hendardy’s one man band take on the grimier slices of that area’s alternative rock. It’s quite a roar from a single person, and if that wasn’t enough, ‘Love Death Existence’ single came in November and expounded in even more varied, deep sonic palette full of twisting, haunting textures.
Fuzz – III
(see Wasted Shirt, Ty Segall, Black Pus – Fungus II in 26-50)
Blues Pills – Holy Moly!
Cold Meat – Hot and Flustered
I’m generally the first to cry foul when new rock LPs sound derivatively like old ones, saving my bitterest vitriol therein for bands that eschew sounding like others in favor of being generic approximations of eras or genres that came before. And while that’s quite a potentially dismissive lead in for Blues Pills newest, Holy Moly!, a record that swaggers in from the hard rock boogie of the early 1970s, the work of recently passed Mick Green or early, bombastic Led Zeppelin. But on the few occasions they sound somewhat new—the bombastic riffing of ‘Rhythm in the Blood’, ‘Dreaming My Life Away’, or the trippy ‘Dust’—you’re willing to give them a bit of leeway. If you then took that idea a bit further, good old time rock n’ roll for contemporary listeners, it’s interesting to see the new Cold Meat also fit the bill, if for uniquely different reasons. It’s all punk fuzz, but it’s no less nostalgic for days and sounds past, but given its lyrical concerns (‘Industry Sleaze’, ‘Womens Work’, ‘Piscies Crisies’, etc) it is an updating. Still, frenzied scuzzy riffs and chanted vocals speak to the other end of the 1970s.
Smokescreens – A Strange Dream
(see The Reds, Pinks and Purples – You Might Be Happy Someday in 51-75)
Subdued – Over the Hills and Far Away
Aggressive anarcho punk from England, Subdued’s newest is a record you could have easily seen coming out during their home countries glorious hardcore output when ol’ Thatcher roamed the halls of 10 Downing St. I love pretty much all of it, but my favorites are; ‘The Joke’, which isn’t dissimilar to Discharge with some of the low end removed, the rousing, growling ‘Over the Hills and Far Away’, and ‘War Cry’, a martial slow burn that erupts into a galloping riff charge.
Blóm – Flower Violence
I initially did Flower Violence because I dug its cover and, by 25 seconds or so into track 1, ‘Audrey’ I knew I was listening for much more primal reasons. What could be more primal than just liking a cover? Well, a delicately scratched guitar string then a thudding, two cord synth garble I suppose? It’s all base level noise and groove from there, spread over 5 tracks, roughly 26 minutes or so, each track a glitchy noise blast under yelped, pleading vocals. There’s clear songcraft here mixed with a lo-fi inventiveness, definitely a band to watch.
Jesu – Terminus and Never (ep)
Dronestore Cowboys – Dentists of Horses Dream of God to Study
Originally Jesu was created as a new project for English noise auteur Justin Broadrick after the demise of Godflesh in 2003. But, as Godflesh has been reconvened, Jesu has continued in its own right, now becoming as much a chilled out break from the aggressive sonic intensity of the former. This wasn’t always the case of course, the initial Jesu records are tremendously loud, volcanic slabs of distortion and fury, and it offers a glimpse into Jesus, circa 2020. Terminus appeared like a catatonic waking dream late in the year in November, summarizing a difficult year aptly. Everyone is numb to, well, everything at this point, and Broadrick seems to argue that rather than shutting down, the numbness, once inside, can be a meditative catharsis of sorts, even pushing tracks (‘Alone’, ‘Sleeping In’, ‘Consciousness’, and ‘Don’t Wake Me Up’) to explicit readings in this regard. It’s a calming listen for the anxious, which Never amps up slightly when played together (it appeared mid-year). It’s a little more noisy, but only minimally so, ‘Suffocator’ emerging from the fuzz to similarly entomb. They were often paired with the quietly meditative LP from Louisville duo Ben Traughber and Blake Edward Conley also known as Dronestore Cowboys, specifically Terminus, which I eventually realizing that if you listen to a record a dozen times or more that it should probably make a list of favorites. It’s just there, in the background soothing, eventually latching into a subconscious aesthetic I (apparently) appreciate. ‘My Body Just Before I Disappeared’ perhaps best of all.
Pottery – Welcome to Bobby’s Motel
I liked Pottery’s last record enough, 2019’s No. 1 as it was a fun debut, but any (lukewarm) praise was no doubt assisted when I caught them live being a late addition at the top of a bill. Seeing their ironically detached angular Pop performed in near rave-like intensity made the quirky structures pay off. Thus, I was more open to Welcome to Bobby’s Motel, its full-length follow up, but as it turns out you don’t need to be in on the joke, the tunes are just a lot better this time around; the punchy ‘Hot Heater’ pretends they’re the Talking Heads for three-and-half-minutes, the romantic elixir of ‘Hot Like Jungle’ where they croon like Orange Juice (the highest compliment a guitar band can get in my eyes), but best of all might be ‘Texas Drums Pt. I & II’, a good single that turns into a throw down half-way through and the guys have a blast taking turns showing off.
Crack Cloud – Pain Olympics
Many people had a number of issues with the highly anticipated Idles follow up to their brilliant 2018 breakthrough Joy as an Act of Resilience Resistance, and while I like Ultra Mono a lot (see its placement here) it was different in its sloganeering and sound. As a way around it, I’ve sometimes recommended Crack Cloud’s second, Pain Olympics to capture the earlier Idles, not that they’re similar musically—Crack Cloud’s swelling membership as an art collective changes the sonic dynamic of standard rock template of guitar/bass/drums/vocals—they’re something of an Idles if Idles spent their time wanting to be like early King Crimson or English Progressive Folk of that golden 1968-1973 era. A number of brooding, epic tracks that often border on New Wave highlight a breakthrough for the band.
The Spacious Mind – The No. 4 Or 5 Gravy Band (2019, second edition 2020)*
A spacious mind is not only the name adorning the album as its author, but a prerequisite for getting into the Swedish psych icon’s newest LP’s sprawling three tracks. Loaded with dreamy, hypnotic basslines and trippy searing guitar the album juxtaposes those modern sounds of electric pulses with primal drums and chanted passages. If a listener wanted to tune out for a night, I can’t recommend anything more than this to soundtrack the experience.
*Though a late 2019 release, a slightly different second edition saw unveiling in 2020 so I’m included it here.
Godcaster – Long Haired Locusts
Is there such a thing as Indie-Prog? I’d assume there probably is, stuff like Guerrilla Toss’ Eraser Stargazer perhaps, but that’s where the new batch of tunes from Philadelphia’s Godcaster would land. Multipart songs might have been a real chore in the days of Yes and Rick Wakeman’s solo LPs, but here it seems as much about not being able to sit still for 10 seconds, let alone riding the same groove for more than 10 bars. My favorite, ‘Bingo Bodies / Long Haired Locusts’, opens up into a good tune in the second half eventually finding itself as a spiritual hymn, which closes the comic-book fantasy record in grand style.
Samantha Crain – A Small Death
Touching Folk from the Shawnee, Oklahoma singer-songwriter Samantha Crain, A Small Death explores the small crevices and nooks where her voice becomes so brittle it nearly snaps before swelling into the next high. My favorite, ‘Constructive Eviction’, the albums centerpiece, broadens the Folk palette with horns and booming drums, making you realize that the instrumentation has been great throughout (‘Holding to the Edge of Night’, ‘High Horse’, ‘Joey’, ‘Garden Dove’) it’s just that Crain’s vocals had so mesmerized.
Ellis – Born Again
A tender record from Hamilton, Ontario’s Ellis, it’s not unlike the much heralded pair of LPs that Taylor Swift released that got all the Rolling Stone writers hot under the collar. Those weren’t for me, but for dreamy, swirling Pop, Born Again is a triumph. Plus, it also had one of my strangest realizations on record in 2020; hearing the Goo Goo Dolls ‘Iris’ motif creep into ‘Shame’. Ha.
51 – 75
Bastien Keb – The Killing of Eugene Peeps
For Bastien Keb’s third album, he had a grand idea: soundtrack a film. Only The Killing of Eugene Peeps is a film that only exists in the mind of Bastien Keb. So we’re merely along for the ride, the wonderful melange of Blaxploitation, Giallo, and Italian Crime Film soundtracks of the ’70’s set against Keb’s grim noir tales. If Serge Gainsbourg brooded like Tom Waits and loved Argento’s Deep Red, this is what he might have produced. Given the tracks are such an interlocking maze flushing out a conceptual story, I hesitate to pluck any of the songs from their place in the narrative, but if you wanted an snapshot to jump in, ‘Theme For an Old Man’, ‘Alligator’ and the twinkling, if dark, ‘All the Love in Your Heart’ are great places to start.
the Avalanches – We Will Always Love You
The Avalanches newest, We Will Always Love You, their first since 2016’s Wildflower, is a dense record, filling the space with a kaleidoscope of Pop ideas and textures. They’ve always been a playful band, but here, at times, taken completely, it borders on overwhelming you—a point underlined when you take the entire 25 track journey in one sitting. But, much of what is here is playful and highly welcoming, pushing you towards enough listens to fully break through, prompting an understanding that great Pop was always a ‘everything and the kitchen sink approach’, and the few decades of stripping back to stupid minimalism was at a huge disservice. Here is revealed one of Pop LPs of the year—‘We Will Always Love You’, ‘The Divine Chord’ (featuring the work of Johnny Marr), ‘We Go On’ (which Mick Jones of the Clash appears!), ‘Interstellar Love’ and ‘Running Red Lights’ are all first rate singles.
Wax Chattels – Clot
Glitchy, post-punk agitation that resists easy classification just as much as it denies tunes from starting: they find a groove and break for an electronic hiccup. The unified shouted vocal delivery and overall experimentation makes sure things never get dull. ‘No Ties’ and ‘Cede’ sound like what Savages would if they did nothing but smoke cigarettes and scar their amps with razor blades and developed a raging case of tinnitus.
Dehd – Flower of Devotion
Dehd’s last record merged a quite intoxicating mix of country fried twang with dream pop lushness, so it wasn’t out of the question that as they matured the dream pop would take over more and they’d appear like a full-fledged New Wave band. So while Water sported the great ‘Wild’ and ‘Lucky’ 1-2 punch, here it becomes ‘Disappear’, ‘Desire’ and ‘Flood’ where the vista is an urban aqueduct instead of sprawling prairie mesa. It doesn’t lose their considerable Pop gifts so you don’t mind to much, they’re 2 for 2 and quickly becoming one of their era’s greats.
Coriky – Coriky
I loved the Evens, Ian McKaye’s post-Fugazi band with Amy Farina of the Warmers, and with the addition of another Fugazi member (bassist Joe Lally), we now have Coriky. While their histories will swarm any approaches to this album, Coriky is an aggressive, original enterprise in its own right. A collection of beautifully accessible post-punk tracks, they’ll often present themselves pleasantly, only later revealing their seething contempt; the initial single ‘Clean Kill’ is murderous but on a low boil, while ‘Too Many Husbands’ is more forthright, busting out with a frenzied riff. Similarly, the meditative second half plays the same; standout ‘Last Thing’ leads a string of sedate, menacing grooves that had been kickstarted by the otherwise stomping ‘BQM’. Here’s to hoping the quarantine lifts and I can have the pleasure of seeing them hit the road.
METZ – Atlas Vending
METZ, in a flash, have grown up. The buzzsaw assault of II’s ‘Swimmer’ or ‘Landfill’ or Strange Peace’s magnificent triumvirate of ‘Mess of Wires’, ‘Cellophane’ and ‘Dig A Hole’ traded for a more attuned attention to song craft and internal dynamism. Here that’s something like the multi-layered ‘Hail Taxi’, that shifts between quieter, plucked passages with a heavy riff that I can’t recall if it’s from In Utero’s ‘Radio Friendly Unit Shifter’ or ‘Tourette’s’ or, well, both. Nirvana is always the call back to these sort of records I know, and while not wanting to be thick, I prefer when METZ, and bands like ‘em, just melt my face. This record has some of that; ‘Sugar Pill’, the wonderful close to opener ‘Pulse’ and the highly eccentric ‘Parasite’ (maybe my favorite), so it’s another winner. Perhaps their entire career is summed up with closer, ‘A Boat to Drown In’, which covers nearly 8 minutes, or in analogous terms, 5 LPs.
Zoon – Bleached Waves
One of the most interesting takes on subverting the shoegaze template I’ve heard in awhile, Daniel Monkman’s musical identity as Zoon creates a quixotic, beautifully lush take on the genre via his orchestral, noisy blooms. Given the genre is so defined now, I’d imagine some of this is as genre leaping as the greats were in the 1989 heyday. In the end it’s just beautiful music, ‘Vibrant Colours’, ‘Light Prism’ and especially ‘A Perfect Sunset Ahead’ offering some of the most bittersweet joys of the year.
Ringo Deathstarr – Ringo Deathstarr
Ringo Deathstarr releases in the past were wonderful amalgamations of shoegaze’s glorious heyday, adding just enough of a twist to validate their existence beyond mere revival act. On their newest self-titled release, draped in a black and white cover, I envisioned a darker, emotive affair after ‘God Help the One’s You Love’ sauntered in. But, remarkably, it’s not (and that certainly wouldn’t have been a bad thing), instead it’s often their most joyous, sexy offering—how else can one describe ‘Once Upon a Freak’ or the swirling ‘In Your Arms’. If those weren’t obvious enough, there’s the bliss of ‘Heaven Obscured’ and ‘Cotton Candy Clouds’. In a dark year with a boatload of releases to match, this was a welcome oasis.
Belako – Plastic Drama
Indie post-punk is a common enough sound, so when deviations exist—like the tuneful new Belako—you bask in their collection of melodic, hooky odes to queer rights, online spats, and overall anxiety. Highlights abound from the Spanish quartet; the onrush of ‘Truth’, ‘Truce’, to my favorite, the defiant, anthem, ‘The Craft’.
Special Interest – The Passion Of
Bubbling, post-punk dirge that sounds like it was recorded in a tile lined bathroom, Special Interest’s newest is a rousing collection of tunes with a specific edge. Once it settles in—I think the stunning ‘All Tomorrow’s Carry’ (track 4) is about when it happens—the LP harnesses the anger into a controllable rage it careens across several highlights; ‘Homogenized Milk’, the stomping ‘Head’, and ‘Street Pulse Beat’ chief among them.
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – Viscerals
(see Wasted Shirt, Ty Segall, Black Pus – Fungus II in 26-50)
Emma Ruth Randle/Thou – May Our Chambers Be Full
Thou has become, in recent years, a band that exists wonderfully in collaboration, every few years offering another distinct pairing where their distinct flavor meshes wonderfully into another whole. First was 2015’s You, Whom I Have Always Hated, a record with the Body (who themselves have mastered the collaboration idea as well, as Everything That Dies Someday Comes Back with Uniform last year can attest) before a pair of recordings with Emma Ruth Rundle a singer-songwriter with a firm, if delicate, voice that matches perfectly with the growling, doom laden heaviness of Thou (the second collaboration is promised with 2021’s The Helm of Sorrow). The group of songs follow suit, often brittle, quiet openings erupt into growling, depressive behemoths (‘Into Being’) or have that fury from the drop (‘Out of Existence’ and, my favorite, ‘Ancestral Recall’). Thou, and whoever they partner with, have an amazing ability to offer uniquely interesting metal that is still deeply meditative and chill. I don’t know how they manage it exactly, but it makes for gripping listens.
Nothing – The Great Dismal
With 4 albums now under their belts, Philadelphia shoegazers Nothing have become something of a band I largely take for granted, thinking highly of all their albums (especially the debut, Guilty of Everything) but not generally that obliged to seek them out immediately on release. I’m not sure why, I suppose the odious whiff of Pitchfork darlings turns me off, a position they’ve done nothing to cultivate so I shouldn’t hold it against them. Mea culpa. Thus, I turned to The Great Dismal with a more open mind and was happy to find, almost through mere coincidence that they’ve also made their best LP since Guilt of Everything, a tremendous realization of their sometimes shaky merging of dreamy, lush shoegaze and aggressive Metal riffing. Here they nail it all; ‘Blue Mecca’ is reflective and hazy, while elsewhere they couch everything in redlined dreamy hard rock (‘Ask the Rust’, the crunchy ‘Famine Asylum’) but perhaps the through line is how melodic it all is, ‘Bernie Sanders’, ‘Catch a Fade’ and ‘Say Less’ (especially the latter two) all offering alternative rock radio a bevy of riches. Hell, I’m not sure that not still underrating them, the more I listen to this album, the more I like it. It should probably be even higher.
Modern Technology – Service Provider
Brooding and dense, Modern Technology follow up their brilliant 2018 self-titled release with one that sounds similar, only if you played it at a considerably slower speed. Here, everything lurches and marches to a steady doom vibe, creating a vibe of considerable dread. As a result it’s heavier; ‘Therapy’ sets the table for proceedings wonderfully so that ‘Gate Crasher’ which is a pounding sludge epic, can spew hellfire.
RVG – Feral
The Reds, Pinks and Purples – You Might Be Happy Someday
It’s been a long twisting, jangly path since the Byrds strummed through the form. With important stops in ‘70s (Big Star, et al) and the 80’s (the Paisley Underground, Flying Nun, et al) it has thankfully never wholly left us, with each generation finding enough to love in 12 string Rick’s and colorful melody to add new wrinkles. Several new ones came this year, LA sported 2; Exploding Flowers with their first new LP in ages (‘Imagine All Possibilities’, ‘I Need Your Devotion’), and Smokescreens, whose A Strange Dream is a cheery, bright record covering up its melancholy leanings (‘Streets of Despair’, ‘On and On’ and ‘Working Title’). A few hundred miles north in San Francisco was The Reds, Pinks and Purples, who were the moodiest of the group, which is a polite way for me to say they’re my ‘favorite’. Evoking the Sarah/C86 bands of England’s gloomy 80’s bedroom poets, ‘Desperate Parties’ and ‘You Might Be Happy Someday’ the standout efforts. RVG’s Feral, meanwhile, sports ‘Perfect Day’, one of the brightest spots of guitar pop this year, alongside the gems ‘I Used to Love You’ and ‘Asteroid’.
Irreversible Entanglements – Who Sent You?
I loved their previous record, the 2017 self-titled debut, placing it amongst my favorite 15 records at years end. Who Sent You? picks up where that one left off, a remarkable statement given that Irreversible Entanglements was a simmering slow burn ready to erupt much like the class and race relations it so virtuosically detailed with barely controlled rage. Thus, from the drop here we’re in full vitriol, ‘The Code Noir / Amina’ outlining a ‘breaking point’ or ‘no return’ suddenly realizing that track 2’s title cut (‘Who Sent You?’) is openly asking the question to the police who patrol our streets whether we ask them to or not. It’s both a remarkable set of timing—this LP appeared in March, more than 2 months before George Floyd’s murder would spark a 6 month period were millions around the world marched in protest to violence perpetrated on black people at the hands of oppressive police. While that’s a stunning coincidence, it’s probably more appropriate to say it’s more a bit of ‘same old, same old’.
Horse Lords – The Common Task
Baltimore’s Horse Lords bill themselves as a free-jazz leaning rock ensemble, experimenting with textures in the face of discovering just enough terrain to carve out a tune. The Common Task is their fourth, (with another 4 full-length jam mix tapes in that span as well) and I think my most favorite yet, a sinewy collection of tunes (‘People’s Park’ is most archetypical, ‘Against Gravity’ most galloping) that sounds as much like modern, fresh Prog rock as it does their old, more angular, muscular jazz noise. It’s psychedelic rock for urban dwellers, those who button up their shirts in lieu of tie-dyed draped fuzz.
I Break Horses – Warnings
While I Break Horses are a band, they are best seen as a Maria Lindén project, crafted with the help of others. It took 6 years from Chiaroscuro to Warnings, and while Lindén’s atmospheric dreamy vocals link anything she touches, Warnings is clearing leaps and bounds better than anything previous, a remarkable statement when you begin to read a bit on why the record took 6 years (lost hard drives, band in-fighting which led to swapping in new members, production experimentation, etc). Her gift is taking dream pop to real Pop heights whether it’s in her really dark, somber meanderings (‘I Live at Night’, ‘Death Engine’, ‘l a r m’) or more expansive, stadium shaking new wave (‘Turn’, ‘I’ll Be the Death of You’ and the brilliant ‘Baby You Have Travelled for Miles Without Love in Your Eyes’).
The Men – Mercy
I suppose being a fan of the Men means you like one of their albums over all others, or rather given they’ve now made 8 LPs over a decade in various incarnations, one of the eras above all others. This is a statement I can make not really knowing one of their fans, instead just being familiar with how different each record is from the others in their discography; initially they were a purely abrasive noise band, but around Tomorrow’s Hits, started to craft dive bar rock, a detour that attracted new fans and many glowing reviews. It didn’t last—Devil Music, its follow up, was another post-punk leaning noise LP, in my opinion their best up to that point (2016). It again, didn’t last, Drift, well, drifted back to bar rock, while still playing a bit in post-punk, perhaps finally showing how they could mix and match all the talents they possessed. Mercy then arrives with this tenuous merging in place, that, as expected, didn’t last. Instead they’re different again: this time a lovely set of country tinged ballads and softly strummed steel guitars presents them very pleasant musically, even if raw vocals amount to some pretty grim tales. ‘Mercy’ and ‘Cool Water’ are the best exemplifiers of this new sound, but the boys don’t forget to still rock, ‘Breeze’ being best of all in this regard. In the end I still don’t know where they go from here, but admit that for me they’re best when they’re being loud. We’ll see.
The Homesick – The Big Exercise
Quirky indie guitar Pop from the Dutch trio found itself making their new (second) record in the brighter glare of Sub Pop and responded by adding pastoral touches and genuine fury. Their debut (Youth Hunt, 2017) was varied—murky bass driven post-punk tracks sat alongside quirky, XTC eccentricities, a sign that who Homesick was was still very much an open question. The Big Exercise, thankfully, finds them crafting a tighter, more consistent group of tunes, and the results sparkle; the suite of Pop that runs, ‘Children’s Day’ to ‘Pawing’ to ‘I Celebrate My Fantasy’ that serves as a nice appetizer for closer ‘Male Bonding’ that is blissfully ironic, and shockingly angry. In-between, the pastoral whimsy of ‘The Small Exercise’ points to a real Pop future if they want it.
The Bedrooms – Passive Viewing
Portland’s the Bedroom’s play driving, soaring music that separates itself from much of the post-punk of today by being incredibly bright and pretty, amounting to romantic music for road trips and walks in locked down communities. ‘We Are Unknown’, Passive Viewings first track starts things briskly, a bouncing melodic tune that only briefly foreshadows the darkly sketched ‘Edge of Consent’. There’s a really interesting Pop sensibility to my ears here, ‘Ready Room’, ‘That’s Fine’ and ‘Passive Viewing’ (which is a good Bow Wow Wow comparison) coming off like New Wave stadium anthems that are performed in whisper, you spend the first few listens straining to get the message. Somehow it works, and you feel like it’d be welcome to 80,000 screaming fans, including the malcontents all the way in the cheap seats.
The Silence – Electric Meditations
How much can one track drive an opinion on a record? In the age on online streaming and playlists often usurping artist desired album listings, is one track enough to catapult appreciation for an LP? I’d say yes, but that it’s an idea that predated streaming—I have little use for Road’s sole LP Road, from 1972 for example, the hard rock band best known for Noel Redding’s inclusion after the Jimi Hendrix Experience split, but it does contain the sludgy ‘Mushroom Man’ so I no doubt have passed a recommendation of it off to many people nevertheless. I came upon Electric Meditations much the same way, via one track that knocked me on my 6, the brilliantly spurted noise of ‘Electric Mediations’, surely one of the rock tracks of the year. I more or less stayed there for awhile, playing it on repeat for weeks every now and again, eventually getting to the rest of the record. There are certainly more highlights than Road (ha!), but I should have expected that from guitarist Masaki Batoh’s post-Ghost project; the ‘I’m a Man’ cover finds interesting new terrain while ‘Butterfly Blues’ is all attitude and sludgy boogie.
Melt Yourself Down – 100% Yes
The London based band’s exotic mix of North African rhythms and jazzy interludes alongside horns squeals and bubbling bass will remind some enough to compare the band to James Chance backed by any of great Two-Tone bands (Specials, Madness, Bad Manners, et al) an idea that I think most accurately is taking that sound to the next level. It’s mostly in the complex density here, the digital studio approximation of the post-rock landscape. The tunes are killer, ‘This Is the Squeeze’ is a swirling whirlpool dance party, while elsewhere they play with gothic, almost hip-hop textures (‘Born in the Manor’) to brooding Post-Punk (‘Chop Chop’, ‘Every Single Day’). It’s a complete blender of a record, a melange of styles that works as a cohesive whole that I imagine when they write ‘their hit’, could take over the world.
Fontaines D.C. – A Hero’s Death
Upon the release of their debut, 2019’s Dogrel, Fontaines D.C. were being propped up as an interesting new band, the rare real McCoy that could potentially get a little bit of actual substance onto mainstream rock radio as they ascending into their primes. I was suspect, I’d heard the record before—seeing it as a nice enough amalgamation, apparently the bands they loved in their formative years I did as well. Needless to say I wasn’t exactly jacked to get to its quick follow up. But therein was how I’d misread them—rather than take victory laps over the debut, they got immediately back to work and released A Hero’s Death, a much more downtrodden, original record. By growing up, they’ve grown forlorn and ponderous and I can’t hide that I think a bunch of these tracks are near first-rate, ‘Love Is the Main Thing’, the atmospheric ‘Sunny’, or the title track that cheers things up again. Or maybe I’m an old fart and I just like the depressive bits (it could very well be that ‘I Don’t Belong’ does enough to recall the vocal delivery in Inspiral Carpets ‘This Is How It Feels’, or something else so precisely that I just can’t recall…is it the Sounds’ ‘I Can’t Escape Myself’?).