I hope you enjoyed the first edition of this over the summer that covered through July 3rd. There were five parts (1,2,3,4,5) and I hope you tackled them and found some stuff you didn’t know about. Here is the post covering the back half of the year. Also, I’m letting you know now, you should strap in because it is long as there is just this one article with roughly the same amount of bands covered from earlier this year.
If we’re being honest most of us would like to forget this year ever happened. The shitstorm that was 2020 is finally ending! So many people over the world lost loved ones, their jobs, income, homes, and joy in general. One of the few things that has kept me going this year is music.
I listened to more music this year than I can remember. Like truly listened. Dug in deep to a bunch of records and remembered the joy that could bring. Yes, I listened to a lot of comfort records, but man new music just hits that spot. Without live music to discover new bands and songs, it took a lot of sleuthing the internet, talking to friends, reading a lot of emails, and trying to find diamonds in the rough.
If you’re on this site already then you probably know of releases from Fontaines D.C., Margo Price, Fleet Foxes, My Morning Jacket, IDLES, Bruce Springsteen, ACDC, Jeff Rosenstock, Paul McCartney, Kevin Morby, Miley Cyrus, The Nude Party, The Flaming Lips, Sturgill Simpson, Public Enemy, Gorillaz, Megan Thee Stallion, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, and Taylor Swift. If you somehow didn’t know that these folks put out albums in the second half of the year, go take a look and then continue on here.
In my first half of the year articles, I put some albums in the five parts you probably knew about, but they were in there because it was what I was listening to a lot. I’m really trying to get you out of your comfort zone this time, so I hope most of these you don’t know or only know some of the singles.
Yes, some of these are probably on big year end lists from many major publications and websites, but I do think there are some rare birds here that might have been overlooked. Also, there are some names you might recognize here that you might have not realized put out albums or EPs. There were a lot of sneaky releases with everything going on. All I’m saying is don’t shoot the messenger, just get your ears ready and enjoy the albums you might have missed during the second half of this crazy fucking year. As a quick reminder, none of this is ranked, the order these are being given in is random, and these are all just records I enjoyed listening to, whether it was once or many many times over.
Sault – UNTITLED (Rise)
Much like the surprise UNTITLED (Black Is) released on Juneteenth, and showed up in the first half of albums you may have missed, Sault surprised us again with this record that sounds like nothing else out in the industry. The 15 tracks are a celebration of being Black in today’s world. “Stronger” kicks us off with a disco-infused six-minute groovy landscape that includes a drum line break. Titles like “Fearless”, “I Just Want to Dance”, and “Free” shows the feelings of celebration. There is still plenty of anger on the songs of this record, but much like the dancing and singing throughout the protests that show joy as an act of resistance, this record wants you to feel joy while still fighting for what is right.
The mission statement of the album “Rise” is a spoken-word track where the sun is shining just for you and how you should keep your head clear as you rise and start your day. As said before there is still anger on this album and with the opening lines of “Street Fighter”, “They can’t stop us, nothing like us, it’s not over till they hear us now,” you can see the collective that makes up Sault are still angry about what is happening in the world today to the Black population of the world. “Rise Intently” is the march to the start of a war that goes right into “The Beginning & the End” where a woman is giving the final speech before one of the clashes in said war.
“You Know It Ain’t,” is the best track on the record, calling out white people for all of the things they say they are doing, but aren’t really doing, showing how fake most of the allyship they say is important is a bunch of trash. The album ends with “Little Boy”, a song about childhood and trying to protect that childhood. Unfortunately, childhood isn’t innocent or long anymore as the problems seem to be rising exponentially and starting at a younger age. Sault’s two records this year should have been on every best of list around the world and I feel like many just punted on it because they would then have to face reality. Please don’t sleep on either of them. Listen on Bandcamp
Cartalk – Pass Like Pollen
The album starts off with a quiet guitar and Chuck Moore, aka Cartalk, singing softly before the full band comes in and closes out the track to a slight peak that is a preview of the rest of the album. The second track, “Noonday Devil”, shows the full force that Cartalk will have on the rest of Pass Like Pollen. They described the record as the aftermath of a relationship. “Las Manos” describes the visceral moment of first meeting someone you know is going to be in your life and the music pushes those tensions.
“Wrestling” has some great riffs and a chorus that will surely get a crowd dancing once we can come back to live events again. “Driveway” is a heavy song about being in a relationship but feeling like it’s over already, basically a shell of what it once was, and it feels like you can see through the other person as if they were a ghost. “A Lesson” is a quick beautiful slow song about learning from every relationship and taking that forward as you move on in life. “Sleep” ends the record on a high note both lyrically and musically. While it might be over, the memories are there forever. I’m so excited for what the future holds for Cartalk as this is quite the debut. Listen on Bandcamp
Bartees Strange – Live Forever
Ok so this will be on every year end list you see from the big guns (Rolling Stone, NPR, etc) and it deserves it. This record starts out strong and doesn’t let up. I’m sure there will be comparisons to TV on the Radio and Bloc Party and to be honest, in 2020 that’s lazy writing. Oh, look a black musician sounds like these other black musicians. Fuck that. Bartees really doesn’t stay in one genre on the record, showing that he can be as eclectic as anyone out there and even raps on “Mossblerd” that “genres keep us in our boxes” and Bartees wants nothing to do with that. The song that follows, “Far”, sounds like it could have come off of a Killers record, with the mostly acoustic track moving into a full band romp. Bartees influences feel like what would happen if Questlove, the known music aficionado, were coming up in today’s everything is at your fingertips world.
“Jealousy” moves around like Bon Iver, “Mustang” is very much a Killers/Bleachers inspired ride, “Boomer” wants to be the poppiest punk/rap mash up song you’ve ever heard, and is said in nothing but pure love. I love that “Kelly Rowland” starts off like this weird computer glitch and turns into the only R & B song on the record. “In A Cab” has a horn section taken straight from the 70’s and time traveled to today. Look, this release is as good as the hype that has surrounded it. Treat your ears to one of the year’s best albums. The fact that it’s a debut is wild. Bartees will hopefully continue to produce music like this for us for many years to come. Listen on Bandcamp
Tauroctony – Tauroctony
This four song album is a quick listen that is all about the ancient Roman mystery school Mithraism and the mythologized slaying of the primordial bull. While this may lead you to believe you’re about to listen to some kind of metal record, you’d be very far off. The album oozes a mix of 80’s pop, 70’s soft rock, and just a hint of 60’s psychedelia. A lot happens in these songs lyrically. I’m not going to try and dive into it, but I did dive into what this school was as well as the slaying of the bull and boy does it go far. I mean I recommend checking it out, haven’t you had enough TV and movies by now? But in all seriousness there are some beautiful harmonies, looking at “Gentle Soldier” where the ritual is finished and the hero is coming home.
I love how Chris Cronin has gotten so many different sounds out of his guitar all over this record. Also despite the record just being four folks and three instruments, the songs truly have a ton of depth to them. It feels like a far larger band on the EP. Jon Cantiello and Jesse Buldoc have been performing together for so long now that they can keep the groove of any song together in their sleep. These songs are a little easier going music than they are used to playing and they totally nail it. The vocals on this record are never overpowering by Michael Merced, but you just get sucked in by the soothing performance that he gives and if you aren’t replaying this over again as soon as you stop, then you’re better than I am. Listen on Bandcamp
Fantastic Negrito – Have You Lost Your Mind?
Can we talk about how this man is 52 years old? I had no idea. Since he’s only been around for four years, roughly 2016, I thought he was much younger. I’m only saying this as he always gives off the energy of someone younger. Ok onto the music, his third record starts off with “Chocolate Samurai” and about three quarters into the song he says “it’s never too late to achieve your dreams” and I mean it just goes with the age thing. He is beloved in the music world and he’s really doing what he wants to. His music goes in all directions, from roots and funk to rock and blues and even a bit of gospel.
He gets a little help from a few guests on the album, most notably Tank from Tank and the Bangas on the scorching track “I’m So Happy I Cry”. “Your Sex is Overrated” featuring Masa Kohama has Fantastic Negrito doing his best Prince send up, and it works. “King Frustration” speaks to everything happening today for Black Amerircans, not being able to function while worrying about every step taken throughout the day. It’s an angry song that deserves to be played loud through your stereo. If you’re not familiar with him for some reason, please go take a listen to all three of his records, you won’t be disappointed. Listen on Bandcamp
Katie Schecter – Bad for Business
Look albums that get released in December in a regular year get forgotten about, let alone this year where everyone is exhausted beyond belief. Katie Schecter’s latest album should be gone through immediately, don’t let it dissolve into the ether of the holidays and the new year. As if time traveled right from the 60’s, every song could have been sung by Nancy Sinatra, or someone cut from the same cloth. Helping Katie out is a murderers row of musicians including Katie Jacoby (The Who), Scott Metzger (honestly too many bands to name), Nick Bockrath (Cage the Elephant), Homer Steinweiss (Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings) and more give Katie’s lyrics the music it deserves.
The songs range from a strong woman you might not be ready for (“Bad for Business”) to someone living a lie everyday (“One Man Masquerade”) to constantly being lied to (“Every Single Time”). There are a lot of slinky guitar lines that just make you want to get up and dance. This album shows Katie has the potential for a major breakthrough if we can start having live music again and she is able to open for the right act and people get to see her out on tour. Listen on Bandcamp
Shamir – Shamir
I’m all about albums that move from genre to genre with ease. Shamir has done that with this record, with a few skits thrown in for good measure. We get some country “Other Side”, indie rock “Pretty When I’m Sad” and “Paranoia”, and pop “Running”. Shamir’s voice is very much the hook here as that high pitch singing sounds like no one else. “On My Own” also swings towards pop and feels like an anthem for feeling comfortable in your own skin. “Diet” has such a great groove to it that I found myself dancing around no matter when I listened to it. “I Wonder” is truly a heartbreaking song that sounds like Shamir was going through that moment in a relationship where you look at the other person and go, “is this going to work?.” “In This Hole” ends the record as Shamir reaches deep down inside to deliver the lyrics as strings swirl around eventually taking over and fading out. It’s a gorgeous end to the quick album and it leaves you more than satisfied. Listen on Bandcamp
Jackie Venson – Vintage Machine
I’m very privileged to have friends spread throughout this country. Austin, Texas is one of the places where I feel like I’m home whenever I’m there. Since I have close ties there, I get the lowdown of musicians before they hit the rest of the country. Jackie is one of those musicians. She truly sounds like no one else out there and this eight-song album should be required listening for your ears. “Awake” kicks off like peak 80’s Prince with Jackie going high up in her vocal registry over some magical synths and guitar playing. This isn’t the last homage to the purple one either, but Jackie also goes into some St. Vincent territory all over the record while still keeping it sounding brand new. Jackie is able to blend pop music and indie rock on “Home” that makes you want to dance around your room while also headbanging along just enough while you dance. Jackie’s guitar solos scorch your ears throughout this album are never long, but when they come you can’t help but perk up and take notice.
I adore the parts of “Lofi” that sound like they came straight out of an 80’s video game. “Surrender” sees Jackie deal with trying to cope with the demands of everyday life and trying to give into the fact that patience is truly the only way to get through it all. “Outro: The Beginnings” closes out the album in epic proportions in almost eight minute of mostly guitar parts and melodies that turned into the songs you just heard on the album. Releasing this was a way for Jackie to show all of us the process that some of the record went through. Who needs the 20th anniversary edition when we have it right here on the album. She is a force of nature that you need to get on board with now for when the pandemic is over and you can still catch her in small rooms, because she will graduate rather quickly. Listen on Bandcamp
Maybird – Bird Sides
The psychedelic Rochester, NY quartet came back this year with a six-song EP of things left behind from other sessions. I remember first hearing “Turning Into Water” when it came out and being floored. Having seen them a few times since then has always been a pleasure. They continue to use the studio to make their songs into full technicolor dreams for your ears. “She is My” gets out there with a spoken word section over some intense playing. This is followed by “If Then” then from the get go blasts off into outer space.
When the word free is screamed in “The Story” all bets are off as the band begins to jam as if they were playing The Fillmore or the London Roundhouse in the mid to late 60’s. They really know how to write some beautiful music that has great hooks that make you take notice of what they are doing, not just relying on their psychedelic tendencies. Listen to “Oh Misery” and just focus on the words and get lost in them. “Dreamcatcher” feels like it belongs in an old western. “Things I Remember From Earth (Alternate Version)” closes it out and I am a sucker for alternate versions. I love how songs change shape in the studio. Stop sleeping on this band, they should be known by more people already. Listen on Bandcamp
Corey Flood – Hanging Garden
Philly lo-fi indie rock for the win. Jangly guitar riffs that at times feel like punk rock and other times feels like psychedelic garage rock are all over the nine-song, twenty-minute album. All of the vocals are fairly laid back in their delivery but sharp in what they say. Overall this is a very dark record and the production helps this aesthetic come across. This is not a collection of happy songs. “Heaven Or” finds a cheating partner who is trying to gaslight their way out of it, “Slow Bleeder” speaks of intimacy issues, “Honey” seems to be about a one-sided relationship that isn’t being reciprocated. Again these aren’t the happiest of lyrics, but the music masks some of that darkness. Em Boltz, Ivy Gray-Klein, and Juliette Rando made quite the debut record that just wants to be played at DIY venues all over the country. Listen on Bandcamp
Mary Lattimore – Silver Ladders
If you don’t know Mary Lattimore, boy are you missing out. Mary is one of the best harpists in the country. Any time I have gotten the chance to see her play in person, whether solo or with someone else, I am always in awe. The music on this album is one to sit back and close your eyes to, or even lay down, and just meditate and forget about the world for a bit. Slowdive’s Neil Halstead produced the record and plays some guitar and synthesizer under Mary’s harp playing, giving this album a bit of a new dynamic for Mary’s music.
Many of these songs have stories that go with them whether it’s a group of adults who were pulled into the ocean “Don’t Look”, or a plane captain’s words “Chop on the Climbout”, but what’s great about the music is you can let your mind wander and come up with your own stories to go with them. Take “Till A Mermaid Drags You Under” for example. There are some sinister strikes of the lower strings that blend with the droning notes of the guitar and it is just a dark picture that yes goes with the title but to me, it feels like we’re traveling in some film noir from an era long gone. Without lyrics, you just have the ebb and flow of the instruments to go by and sometimes your brain just needs that to reset. Listen on Bandcamp
Domenique Dumont – People on Sunday
Talk about an album to meditate to. In a year of nothing but turmoil and trouble, finding ways to relax might have been hard for a lot of people, I know it was for me. This album came out after the election and man do I wish it came out sooner. It was made to be an original soundtrack to a 1930’s silent film from Germany that was a key work of the time between the wars. “We Almost Got Lost” and “Merry Go-Round” sound like they are more of a soundtrack to a spaceship traveling the cosmos than a movie about a country that was living through being defeated in World War I and trying to pick up the pieces. This is a constant feeling I got as the album continued.
Sometimes soundtracks just get really weird and out there no matter what the subject matter is. The music is never hitting you right in the face and to really enjoy it you need headphones on, cranked up loud, so you get all of the little nuances taking place. There is a layering of instruments throughout the whole record that will just make you smile. While it’s layered and complex, Domenique Dumont somehow makes it sound minimalistic, it’s quite the feat. I really want to find the movie that this is the soundtrack to and line them up and watch. Experiments like this will always pique my interest and will be given the time to properly digest. Listen on Bandcamp
Jeremy Ivey – Waiting Out the Storm
Kicking off with “Tomorrow People” reaching into the future, a future none of us want but seem to be moving towards, and asking how it’s going. The frustration many of us have felt with how the direction the world as a whole has been moving towards is felt in this song and is the mission statement of the record. Jeremy can write quite the sprawling tale as seen on “Paradise Alley” that’s so vivid you can picture it unfolding in front of you as you listen. There’s a Dylan, Petty, Young feel to the whole record with “Hands Down Your Pockets” feeling like an amalgam of all three. This is an angry record pointing directly at everything happening in the world. “White Shadow” is about the current Black Lives Matter movement and how white people’s time in power is over. “Things Could Get Much Worse” is pretty self-explanatory in the title, but it’s the wit of the lyrics that really sells it.
The most scathing take on society as it stands today is “Someone Else’s Problem” and it really nails how many people feel on a day to day basis. There is so much going and so many folks are angry at one another and looking to blame someone else, but in the end “they’re really no such thing as someone else’s problem”. “Loser Town” could have been written by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at any time in his career and Ivey along with his band The Extraterrestrials do their best impression of the band on the record and it feels like a love letter to Petty. There’s that guitar riff, everyday man quality, and current storytelling that feels like it could have been written about any era that is so Petty-esque. “How It Has To Be” closes the record out showing off all the tricks lyrically by Jeremy and musically by the band that they’ve displayed on the rest of the album. It’s such a beautiful last track. This is such a great record and deserved far more spins than it got. Listen on Bandcamp
The Sea The Sea – Stumbling Home
On their third record, Chuck E and Mira Costa continue to amaze me with their harmonies. It never fails to move me in that warm way that music is supposed to. The second track, “A Thousand Years”, is a song about staying around and listening to everything until the end of time and I could sit here and do the same with this album. “Parachutes” envelopes you as it brings you into the upper atmospheres of the planet as it truly feels like you’re floating as you listen to this pseudo lullaby. The record is a return to mainly just the duo playing everything after the last record saw them expand to a quartet and this shift back has made the album more folk than indie, like their debut. I love that “Broken”, a song about knowing who you are and not who others think you are, sounds like it could turn into a big rock number at any moment but it is held in restraint by the band. With the last few years we have had as a country, “Foreign Country” is a spot-on take on how many of us have felt looking at it all. The album closes with the title track and it’s a beautiful crescendo, musically and lyrically, of everything you just listened to. Listen on Bandcamp
Hachiku – I’ll Probably Be Asleep
Coming from Australia and on the glorious Milk Records is the one and only Hachiku. I got to see her earlier this year opening for labelmate Courtney Barnett on a brief solo tour in the winter. Right away she gripped my ears with her playing and songwriting and it’s on full display here. “I’ll Probably Be Asleep” is an absolute scorcher to start the record off, sounding like it came out of the 80’s with a new wave vibe that ends with a guitar solo that climaxes as the song abruptly ends. From there we get a quieter affair in “Busy Being Boring” and “You’ll Probably Think This Song Is About You”. The former is about destroying everything around you and the later is about how to deal with a new love.
She writes in a way that makes you feel like you’re having a private one on one conversation and I find it refreshing. The sweeping guitar riffs in “Bridging Visa B” feel like she borrowed some ideas from Courtney on that winter tour this year. The production she does on the record is so great. There are backwards loops, dropping her voice down a few octaves (“Dreams of Galapagos”), harmonizing with herself. I love when an artist sits down and makes almost an entire album by themselves. It ends with “Murray’s Lullaby”, a song to the dog, Murray, who was at the farm she was on to get her Australian Visa and it’s a sweeping beautiful ode to the companion. Listen on Bandcamp
Sego – Life With Pam
Sego came in hot out of nowhere with this almost 17-minute song that contains six tracks and is a straight shot of adrenaline. Spencer Petersen’s vocals are absolutely fantastic and the band is just ripping it up. If you’ve seen them before you know how volatile (in a rock and roll sense) they can be on stage and it translates perfectly on this record. “Model Citizen 101”, the second song starts a little more than two minutes in, is about how you may want to trade places with someone but you have no idea what their day to day life is like, but you just want something different. “Normal Baby 99”, starting around the six-minute mark, is about being sick of how a lot of folks live, but want to live inside of that world for a moment. The title track comes from Spencer’s current living situation with a former 1960’s Copacabana dancer named Pam who partied with The Beatles and with who he obviously shared a lot of stories with. She told him “everyone is peeking over the fence” and you can feel that sentiment in every moment of these seventeen minutes. There should be more coming out from this session soon. Listen on Bandcamp
Joe Wong – Night Creatures
A psychedelic journey that feels like what this year has represented for so many, trying to get through existential dread. Kicking off with “Dreams Wash Away”, which was used in the finale of The Midnight Gospel on Netflix, is quite the move. It’s a song about letting go of everything you had hoped would happen. There’s some absolutely stunning orchestration on this record. It feels like a symphony is waiting to burst at the seams throughout the title track “Nite Creatures” and at around the 2:30 mark when it does, it’s just a beautiful moment. In a year when we’re all looking for beautiful moments, it’s right here for the taking.
“Always Alone” is a four-minute tour de force that could have been an outtake from The Rolling Stones album Their Satanic Majesties Request. It has Brian Jones weirdness written all over it, especially the middle instrumental portion of the song. The record features Steven Drozd of The Flaming Lips, Mary Lattimore, and others as well as Mary Timony from Ex Hex, who co-produced the record. Joe has said the record charts his own journey through loss and redemption. Songs like “In The Morning” and “Nuclear Rainbow” show the dark and light that he was dealing with while writing the record as his father was dying. Both songs have great uplifting instrumentation while the lyrics are all about the constant dread that we are all feeling constantly these days. Go get lost inside this 33-minute kaleidoscope of a record. Listen on Spotify
Ghost Funk Orchestra – An Ode to Escapism
When an album has an introduction track that tells you that for the next 40 minutes you’re going to take a peek into your subconscious, asks if you’re afraid, and then instruct you to turn the lights off and shut your cell phone, I’m all in. What follows is a wild album that spans from ear to ear and soars into territories that I wish more bands would look towards. Many of these songs have the groove of music from late 60’s B-movies, which is a wonderful aesthetic to have. I love the fact that the narrator of the record, Alba Ponce De Leon, continues to check in on the listener as we keep going down various rabbit holes of music and gives us reassurance, but at the same time, her interludes are kind of scary.
“Quiet Soul” has the vocals of Lo Gwynn, Romi Hanoch, and Megan Mancini swirling around one another, as they often do on the album, before horns take over and turn the funk up a few notches above a killer bass and drum groove. The great Kam Franklin, of The Suffers, guests late in the album on “King of Misdirection” and it’s great to hear such a powerful familiar voice over the funk music being produced by Ghost Funk Orchestra. I cannot recommend this enough and I don’t think it got nearly enough love this year. Go turn your lights off and take a journey into yourself. Listen on Bandcamp
King Khan – The Infinite Ones
King Khan has worn many hats over the years and this year he has added jazz artist to that hat collection. With members of Sun Ra Arkestra and Calexico, as well as some regular collaborators, King Khan goes all-in right off the bat. Opening with “Wait Till The Stars Burn” a song that has a psychedelic tribal acid free-form jazz to it that only King Khan could cook up in his bag of tricks, we know we’re in for a ride immediately. I mean this record goes far out into the realms of space and never touches down to Earth. If you listen closely throughout the album, there are hints of Ennio Morricone sprinkled about, which feels like a beautiful tribute for an absolute legend that we lost this year. While the record is only 37 minutes long, it feels far longer, in a good way, as not a single track is in a rush to leave your ears. The trumpet playing by Martin Wenk in “Theme of Yahya” just envelopes your ears like a hug. “Mister Mystery” is freeform jazz meeting garage rock in an intertwining tussle where everyone wins. “Follow the Mantis” feels like film noir, but in a song. Go in with an open mind and let this band of misfits into your soul. Listen on Bandcamp
Kathleen – Kathleen II
Having come out with an EP earlier this year, which is also fantastic, Kathleen comes back with another four-song EP. There is a lot of dread as the EP was mostly written during quarantine, but then again who wasn’t filled with dread. “August” kicks us off with a song revolving around how love sometimes doesn’t turn out the way you thought it would. Kathleen’s voice roars with emotion that she couldn’t hold back while thinking of her past love. “Dark Side of the Moon” was written at the beginning of the quarantine as Kathleen packed her car and drove through four states, with many of her belongings to her family’s home. There is some hope in the beautiful folk song with learning to take what you can, including watching the birds sing and the grass grow. The song ends as nature takes over the track, giving us all hope.
“Can’t Sleep” is that feeling that everyone has: that everything currently happening is a dream, but if we can wake up it will all be over. There’s so much uncertainty and while it would be nice to just snap awake, we need to figure out how to come together to defeat everything that is happening. It’s the song off the EP that would find the dancehalls, if we could get there right now. “Glass Piano” closes us out with a song that seems like it could have come from Fiona Apple, with some great piano work and layers of vocals on top of each other. It’s a beautiful track showing what Kathleen is capable of and what could be coming next. Make sure to listen to both EP’s if you haven’t yet. Listen on Soundcloud
The Nels Cline Singers – Share The Wealth
Welp Nels Cline does it again. The man just doesn’t miss. This 10-track, almost 80-minute album is a tour de force. Nels brought in a bunch of heavy hitters for this effort: Skerik on saxophone, Brian Marsella on keys, Trevor Dunn on bass, Scott Amendola on drums, and Cyro Baptista on percussion. The talent oozing out of this record is palpable. They never step on one another and each musician is given room to do damage as the music ebbs and flows between quietness and rowdiness. Nels brought this group together as an experiment and decided he liked the jams so much that he didn’t really want to mess with them as originally intended to do by picking pieces of the jams apart to make a different sonic landscape.
So here we have this behemoth of a jazz record that just pulls you in and never lets go. From the opening notes of “Segunda” to the ending of “Passed Down” you just have to strap in and go for the ride. “Beam/Spiral” really sets for taking off into outer space around the five-minute mark. “Stump the Panel” is a 17-minute excursion that will leave your jaw dropped. Each member of the band really goes for it, with Skerik and Brian battling it out in the first half before a dip in the action leads to a beautiful quieter portion until it turns into what sounds like the beginning of a horror movie. “Princess Phone”, “The Pleather Patrol”, and “Headdress” all sound like music from outer space coming to take over the land. Listening to Nels go from quiet background player to upfront shred fest to psychedelic slides to ambient noises all from the same instrument throughout the record hurts my brain. The man just does so much with one instrument. Please listen to this one on some good headphones. Listen on Spotify
Blood Blood Blood – Midnite Calls
Hailing from Troy, NY, and part of the mastermind team behind the Super Dark Collective, Blood Blood Blood came out swinging with their darkwave spooky record Midnite Calls. 100 Psychic Dreams and Pretty Grim have been playing together for a long time in various projects and this release and project is by far their darkest. A lot of these songs could be ripped straight from low budget 80’s slasher films; the synthesizers just give it that retro feel. “The Fetish Priest” feels like a tornado ripping through your ears with the mixing of a bullet train drum beat and swirling synthesizers over an evil sermon. The songs present here are deserving of the live shows we were all deprived of this year. Songs such as “Stranglers” and “Vault Crawler” would have ripped live and caused moshing and dancing for folks to get their energy out late at night in small bars and basements.
I’m such a sucker for these types of albums because all of the programming that has to be done for the synths and drum machines always blows my mind. I also love listening deeply for all of the weird little noises thrown into the background that make that tracks feel like they are alive. The album ends with “Partners in a Fatal Dance”, a song about how when you’re in love there isn’t a moment to slow down or something bad may happen. With a slew of church bells, wind, and howls, the record fades out as you have to return to your daily life, or you know just spin it again. Listen on Bandcamp
Tom Morello – Comandante
This five-song EP completely missed my radar until I began compiling what you’re currently reading. Coming out right before the election, I think it got swallowed up by the news. It kicks off with a scorching take on Hendrix’s “Voodoo Child” where he does all of his tricks of the trade while still honoring the original song and the absolute legend who made it. He then teams with Slash on “Interstate 80” which has the two of them going back and forth ripping solo after solo to see who could outdo who. It’s impossible not to smile as you hear the two of them pushing one another to go for broke. Morello then gives us a tribute to another guitar legend who has just passed with “Secretariat (For EVH)” and even throws some of Van Halen’s “Cathedral” in for good measure. He closes out the EP with “Suburban Guerilla” and “Cato Stedman & Neptune Frost” which again have him showing off his licks that let you know exactly who is playing the instrument. Morello is a singular voice on the instrument and I hope we are all able to enjoy the Rage Against the Machine reunion that was supposed to happen this year as soon as possible. Listen on Spotify
Bootblacks – Thin Skies
Putting albums in genres is just silly. We all do it. This album is technically a Darkwave record. Labels are a crutch and we all know it. Things that Thin Skies will make you do include dancing around your house, bopping your head along, and maybe having some heartfelt personal feelings. The guitar work by Alli Gorman throughout this record sounds like The Edge at different parts of his career. It’s kind of scary how much is derived from one of the signature guitar sounds of the last 40 years without ripping him off. “Hidden Things” is the Zooropa let’s get weird phase, “Traveling Light” is peak Joshua Tree era, and “Parallel” is the latest incarnation heard on the last few albums. Many of the songs deal with loneliness and how the narrator is coping. There’s an empty void that they are trying to plug into in each song, but it seems to never work. You can feel this pain and emptiness in Panther Almqvist’s voice. It’s unmistakable. We’ve all been there and if you can find some solace in these songs through the lyrics while dancing around your house, well maybe you’re on your way to getting better. Listen on Bandcamp
Le Ren – Morning & Melancholia
A stunning four-song EP that feels like the end of the world is taking place. What actually happened is an ex-boyfriend died in a car crash and these songs are the healing that Le Ren, whose real name is Lauren Spear, needed to get out into the world. The songs are beautiful and heartbreaking and a hell of an introduction in the world as this is her debut. “Love Can’t Be The Only Reason To Stay” kicks us off with a lullaby about loving someone so much but ultimately having to leave that person because there is more than just love going on.
The healing process of life after this tragic death begins with “How to Begin to Say Goodbye”. The way she harmonizes with herself is just gorgeous. “If I Had Wings” is Lauren trying to figure out a way to see this person one more time to say goodbye. “The Day I Lose My Mind” sounds like a song you’d hear coming out of a Texas Honky Tonk, not from Montreal. The pain in her voice though can be felt universally though. The four songs go by quickly, but be prepared for a lot of feelings to bubble up, especially with what has happened throughout this year. Listen on Bandcamp
Butcher Brown – #KingButch
I got to see these guys open for Kamasi Washington a few years ago and I have been enamored with them since. This crew just oozes funk. And it isn’t just your normal everyday funk, it’s weird and psychedelic and at times almost indescribable. Take the song “Frontline”, which is about halfway through the record. First, there’s a 43-second intro with strings on a separate track that has some of the funkiest bass lines on the album that then goes into the proper track with a few guitar lines. As soon as the guitar has made itself known, the saxophone comes in and just takes over as the band stays in the pocket underneath as the sax quietly swirls above. Eventually, the synthesizer comes in and you just throw your hands in the air because this track is just a masterpiece.
“Love Lock” is pure 70’s easy-going dance music until the guitar comes in shredding, turning the track upside down as it ends, “Hopscotch” is a quick minute freestyle rap, and “Cabbage (DFC)” has the band really -going for the 70’s pure funk vibes, but feels brand new and not like they are looking back on what others have done. “IDK”, the closing track, at times feels like there is an LCD Soundsystem song that wants to come out but is being kept at bay at different times by the horns and the guitar that are just relentless before the whole song turns into a slow-motion march that seems like it’s from a completely different era and then back again. This record really shouldn’t really be dissected apart via singles but experienced as a whole idea. I know I highlighted things here, and this isn’t a concept record, but it truly is an artistic piece. Plenty of albums come out that you can dissect and listen to what you want to. This isn’t one of those. Listen on Bandcamp
The Messenger Birds – Everything Has to Fall Apart Eventually
The Messenger Birds hail from Detroit and the duo plays the kind of loud rock and roll that the motor city is known for. Giving some early 2000’s rock vibes ala White Stripes and early Queens of the Stone Age, The Messenger Birds are a hard-hitting band. The album kicks off with the longest song on the record, stretching over six minutes, but it doesn’t feel self-indulgent. “Play Dead (Just for Tonight)” feels like the mission statement of the record, Parker Bengry and Chris Williams are going to be singing about current events and playing music to headbang to. The song feels like the soundtrack for the current apocalypse we are living through. While many of the songs on the record speak about what is currently going on in this country, and the world, they were mostly written in late 2018 as we were heading to where we are now.
“What You Want to Hear” is a scathing take on the current divide with people just wanting to hear what will make them feel better. “Honest Lies” is a swipe at everyone who can tell lies to you with a straight face, despite knowing the opposite. The song has a driving drum beat intertwining with some guitar licks that give it a mid 70’s KISS at the peak of their powers vibe. The title track is about learning everything you’ve ever known is false, but having a shimmer of hope that it will turn out ok in the end. Look, I never said the record is happy, but it’s uplifting to hear these concerns that have plagued us all, behind some heavy-duty rock and roll. The back to back of “When You’ve Had Enough” and “Start Again” to end the record give us a quieter endpoint than anticipated. The former sounds like the end of a relationship fading away into the air, while the latter picks the narrator back up to begin a new one before the album comes to a close with a wall of sound, much like the rest of the record. Crank it loud folks and headbang, you’ve made it through the year and you deserve it. Listen on Bandcamp
Gaye Su Akyol – Yort Savul: İSYAN MANİFESTOSU!
A stunning three-song EP coming out of Istanbul, Turkey. I honestly don’t remember how I stumbled upon this but isn’t that half the fun of new music coming to you because the universe deems it so. The first track “İsyan Manifestosu” goes into outer space about halfway through as the vocals leave and don’t come back down to Earth after Gaye comes back in. This track has a timeless quality to it that I love to see in new music that comes out today. “Bittim Ana Tamamianmadim” has a haunting delivery by Gaye Su Akyol that fits this track and pairs well with the trumpet solo that almost makes it sound as if belongs in an old western during a sweeping montage of scenes of traveling the desert. “Serefe” closes out the EP in almost a meditative state. The song is a slow burn that might just put you in a trance. Music like this just doesn’t come out in the states, prove me wrong if you can, but it just doesn’t. All three songs demand your attention and deserve it as we close this year out. Listen on Bandcamp
Buffalo Hunt – Ambitions of Ambiguity
Buffalo Hunt is the new project by Stephanie Hunt (of FNL and Nancy and Beth fame) and this record is all over the place in terms of genres, giving a full scope of what Stephanie is capable of. The St. Vincent-esque “Life Not on My Terms” gets the album going and going quickly. “Addicted to Reality” is a waltz put through the echo chamber of indie rock. “Enemies’ Gold” sounds like it wants to be both a pop song and the song for the opening credits of a television show, either way being bathed slightly in “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”.Country music comes to the record on “Which One of Us Is to Blame?” and “Play The Fool”, but the later track goes into wild psychedelic territory in its outro and it’s a shot in the arm as the album reaches the halfway point.
“Apple Tree” feels like three separate songs mashed together into one glorious single that should be on everyone’s radar immediately. I love the dream-like quality of the vocal performance on “Walking in a T.V.” that makes the song seem like you’re flipping channels late at night after waking up on the couch in a haze. The bluesy old-timey vaudeville style of “Beauty of Distraction” shows that even after most of the album, she still has tricks up her sleeve. The lullaby of “Love to Be Loved” closes down the record in under a minute and reminds us we can all be loved if we want to. With everything that has gone on this year it’s good to reminded of this every once and a while. Listen on Bandcamp
Causa Sui – Szabodelico
Danish psychedelic instrumental rock and roll is where it’s at and these cats never disappoint. It’s honestly hard to describe these guys. The music moves like a river, slow but beautiful like on the second track “Gabor’s Path”. There is a sense of calm all over this record as the band was definitely in a more meditative mood while recording this. “Sole Elettrico” constantly sounds like it’s about to go off on the hardest hitting jam of the year, but the band reels it back in and builds it again.
When the band finally lets loose about three minutes in it’s so satisfying you just want to scream out of sheer joy. This moment of course is followed by a weird flute outer space outro jam to close the track out. These guys can pivot within their songs like nobody else. This is why you find music like this, the unexpected turns that take place are just so perfect. The title track is a hypnotic seven-minute tour de force that has echoes of music from old westerns, Grateful Dead 70’s jams, King Gizzard, and traditional Indian music. It’s all mixed together into this new form which is sure to make you get up and get your body moving. Get lost for a little over an hour and turn this killer record up loud. Listen on Soundcloud
Dark Honey – Rougher Stuff
Another Troy, NY act to make the list (there’s something in the Capital Region water folks). These guys make some catchy indie rock songs. You can’t listen to “Funny” without bopping along to it. The guitar riff is bound to get stuck in your head, as well as the 80’s Prince-like synthesizers near the end of the track..”Dreamboat” has The Killers written all over it with that driving drum beat and an infectious chorus. The ending of “Prisoner” makes me want to experience live music again because it absolutely goes insane with everyone playing as fast as possible. I can only imagine who that would leave an audience with their mouths wide open in amazement. “Dark Honey” is probably the biggest swing into pop-rock territory on the record, with a continuous build that once it hits the peak you just want to stand up and shout, whether someone is around or not. The piano lad ballad “Rare Feathers” lets you back into the world on a more contemplative note than the rest of the record. It’s a beautiful end to the 13 track effort. Listen on Bandcamp
Plants and Animals – The Jungle
What a weird soundscape this record is. The title track “The Jungle” literally sounds like you’re in the middle of one with all sorts of animals waking up and starting their day, or night, and you’re just there observing it all as an invisible entity. Putting you directly into this world before the lyrics startup is such a great move by Plants and Animals. “Love That Boy” could have been on one of David Byrne’s last few records. It’s about letting a son go out into the world and being worried for him but also excited to learn from him. “House On Fire”‘s LCD Soundsystem-esque disco beat makes you want to dance, but the lyrics are all about how the world is burning all around us. We move to a pummeling drum beat on “Sacrifice” before taking a sharp turn to the semi-acoustic that turns into beautiful orchestration of “Get My Mind”. The French quiet disco mood of “Le Queens” is just an entire mood that I am here for. At about the 2:30 mark of “In Your Eyes” is the laid back psychedelic jazz lounge jam you didn’t know you needed this year. Listen on Spotify
Charley Crockett – Welcome to the Hard Times
With his second album of the year, Charley Crockett continues to be a man out of time with his brand of country music that harkens back to the 60’s and 70’s. Charley is a great storyteller. On the title track, you can absolutely picture the person who has entered these hard times and the characters around him. “Run Horse Run” spring out like a cannon and doesn’t slow down and has some excellent slide guitar work. The hard times aren’t describing our current predicament, but more so the hard times seen through a lifetime, of which Charley has experienced so much. His experiences of family addictions, homelessness, felonies, and life-saving heart surgery can be heard on the record.
“Fool Somebody Else” while sounding like a love song, it is actually about his health problems. “Wreck Me” though is clearly about love gone wrong. The refrain of “Heads You Win” is such a tongue in cheek line perfect for country music. It goes “heads you win, tails I lose.” The record isn’t out here to rock you, it’s here to make you listen and I appreciate music that will do that. “The Man That Time Forgot” feels like an autobiography for Charley’s life. A little wit and fun has always been a staple of country music, and Charley is a man who knows his history. Listen on Spotify
Girlhood – Girlhood
This self-titled debut album by the English duo feels like it came right out of the 90’s collective The Soulquarians. The neo-soul, hip hop, r and b, and jazz mixing that takes place can’t help but be placed in that era of music and that group of people. The album is focused on womanhood and what that means. Tessa Cavanna stated with the rollout of the record that while “we are different superficially but our need to be loved is universal”. “Keep On” is about pushing forward and moving towards your dreams. “Sister” is a driving dance track about the love you’ll always have for your sister, whether part of your family or not. “Bad Decisions” is about drinking too much and trying to find a way out of it. “It Might Take A Woman” is a disco dream laden track and the final song “The Love I Need” is an all-out gospel affair. This is another record that came out in late October and felt like it got lost in the news cycle. Don’t sleep on it. Listen on Bandcamp
Jenny Banai – Couchwalker
A breathtaking album from beginning to end. The instrumental “Something Soft” eases us into the record with some Radiohead like guitar work and is followed by the beautiful slightly operatic pop tune “Intermittent Heart”. It’s a gorgeous one-two punch to hook the listen for the rest of what’s to come. She got the idea for the title thinking about how many experiences happen on couches from just hanging out to the beginning of relationships and how although you’re on this couch it feels like you’re actually on a tightrope as you are finding out who this person is. “Shadow Thoughts”, a bubbly rocker, is that feeling. I love that “Lava” is basically two tracks put together, the soft first half followed by the rocking ending. “Gold” swells to the end of the track as Jenny harmonizes with herself and her violin soars to the foreground. The transition from the big rock and roll finish of “Face Value” into the meditative instrumental “Timshel” is perfection. There is now a visual component to the album as well, a 20-minute short film that is a great companion to the record. Listen on Bandcamp
Mike Block – Guzo
In the Amharic language, the title of this record means journey and Mike Block takes you on a worldwide one on the eight tracks represented here. The inspirations, in order of their appearance on the album, go as follows: Malian, Levantine Arabic, Indian, Nigerian, Persian, Gulf Arabic (Khaliji), Ethiopian, and Chinese. This wide-ranging music makes this record stand out among every other release this year that I listened to. Mike also made sure to record each song with musicians who were native to each style. I don’t want to go into describing each track on the album as I think words won’t do the beautiful music on this release justice. I think this record is one to just put on and go for the ride.
In a time when the world feels more fractured than ever and everyone is fighting with one another, to have music bring so many different backgrounds together on one release is just refreshing. This album is relaxing to meditate to, if you need some time for yourself. It is also exhilarating, since you get to hear and appreciate so many instruments you don’t normally get to hear. What I hope this record does for those who listen is to go search out more music that is similar to what is on here. It can never hurt to broaden your horizons in anything you love to do and if you love to listen to music, get out of your usual patterns and go for something completely different. Listen on Bandcamp
Boulevards – Brother!
A great late December addition, this four-song EP from Boulevards is a can’t miss affair. The record is his most political to date and is based on his own experiences as a Black man in America. The title song is steeped in funk reminiscent of Sly Stone and takes a slight cue from Jimi Hendrix’s “If 6 was 9”. He is singing not only to the listener, but also to himself, and saying to keep your head up despite what is going on. “Shook” is about how he has to think about every move he makes from the moment he leaves his house until he returns back home because of the color of his skin. “Luv N Pain” details how amazing love can be, only to have it go completely 180 and be left with nothing but sadness and pain. The final track “Losmahway” is about losing one’s way and having to find yourself again. The music that Boulevards and Blake Rhein, guitarist from Durand Jones & The Indications, made on this record is great to get lost in. I’m hoping this collaboration comes back with a full-length album sooner than later. Listen on Soundcloud
Garcia Peoples – Nightcap At Wit’s End
Make all the jam band jokes you would like to, but these guys are like no one else on the scene right now. Their playing is top-notch, like many out there, but their songs are also catchy as hell and memorable. It starts off strong, sounding like you’re about to listen to a heavier album with “Gliding Through” before it transforms into an upbeat poppy rock tune that has a great funky bassline and you might find yourself starting to bop around to it within seconds. “Wasted Time” is straight out of dreamy 60’s easy-going psychedelia, “Altered Place” wants to be an old Love tune (this is a good thing), “Painting a Vision That Carries” with its acoustic mastery still full-on rocking could have fit on Led Zeppelin III.
The entire second side is one long suite and it shows their chops on being able to move from one idea to the next seamlessly. “One at a Time” starts us off with some slinky bass lines and guitar riffs. With a striking guitar chord, we move into the first instrumental track “(Our Life Could Be Your Van)” that goes through three of its own distinct movements, all fast-paced and driving forward, until it drops into “Crown of Thoughts” where you feel like you’ve been transported under water with the abrupt but perfect change. “(Sound Controls Time)” is peak Syd Barret Pink Floyd weirdness that sets us up for another 180 with the acoustic opening of “A Reckoning”. The song stays mellow and feels like a chant before an all-out psychedelic feedback jam, “(Litmus)”, eventually drops us into the peaceful closer “Shadow” to end the suite and the record. It’s a hell of a listening experience from beginning to end. Listen on Bandcamp
Will Butler – Generations
A few years ago Will Butler put out one of the best rock records of the year and he returned this year with one that explores what it is to be American. It also contemplates what one can do to help and how to be better from day-to-day. On “I Don’t Know What I Can Do” this seems pretty self-explanatory. “Close My Eyes” has this feeling of despair while trying to figure out how to not only combat that, but the daily struggle of the news constantly coming at you with no end in sight. There are foot-stomping rockers like the 50’s era “Surrender” and the more punk rock vibe of “Bethelhem”. The background singers Sara Dobbs, Julie Shore, and Jenny Shore shape this album with their harmonies and clapping almost as much as Will himself.
“Hide It Away” would have felt right in place on Everything Now by that other band he’s in. The beat and production on Will’s voice on “Hard Times” feels like he was listening to Billie Eilish while making this song. It’s an interesting outlier on the album and shows that he’s always up for experimenting. “Promised” could have easily fit onto his first record musically. “Not Gonna Die” a disco-laden tune and “Fine” a quiet story of a song close the record out. Will usually gets overshadowed by his brother, but his two solo efforts have truly been great. Listen on Bandcamp
Ganser – Just Look at That Sky
This record starts strong with the pummeling “Lucky” and never lets up. Over nine tracks, Alicia Gaines, Nadia Garofalo, Brian Cundiff, & Charlie Landsman just batter you to death with good old fashioned punk rock, with a little bit of psychedelia and noise thrown in for good measure. With two lead vocalists, Alicia and Nadia, they put themselves above most other punk bands right away. Either one can hold down that position with ease, and they even share duties on “Bad Form”. Punk isn’t really known for its great-sounding vocals, but Ganser is here to make you listen. Like most punk albums, this record can put you on the edge, and this year with most of us being there already, it feels like a fitting release. With witty and surreal lyrics dealing with many of the world’s problems today, Ganser tackles it all in stride. The record ends with “Bags For Life” bringing it all to a head speaking directly about the problems of how much the online world has taken over our daily lives. Listen on Bandcamp
Donnal Missal – Lighter
This is a damn great pop record that finds Donna Missal dealing with her past and finding a new path to go down. The soaring synth sounds in “How Does It Feel” set you up perfectly for the rest of this record. “Hurt By You” when played live will have the perfect drum beat that will get the crowd going absolutely wild. The song is an anthem for celebrating being out of a relationship that has gone its course. This one-two punch to kick the record off is strong and is an indicator of what’s to come with Donna using the record to give herself a new lease on life. “Slow Motion” is a beautiful piano-based song that is just full of hurt and pain, which you can hear in Donna’s vocal delivery. The same could be said for “Bloom” but swap out the piano for an acoustic guitar and have her voice fill your ears even further where it’s almost an acapella track. “I’m Not Ready” is a soaring rocker to close the record out acknowledging that despite dealing with the issues on the nine tracks before this, she isn’t still ready to move forward. This isn’t the easiest of albums to listen to while being stuck in quarantine as it’s speaking to what many are feeling right now (ie: alone, in your own head, unsure of what’s next), but it is cathartic. Listen on Spotify
William Tyler – New Vanitas
If you don’t know William Tyler you really should by now. He’s been around for a bit (in both Lambchop and Silver Jews) and has been releasing solo work for a decade. This was his second effort of the year and this seven-song set is out there. The record is all about life and death and how they are separate but also one continuous thing. On the opening track “With News From Heaven” Tyler loops chords, riffs, and sonic scapes from his guitar over one another and as they brightly jangle around one another they bring the listener into a new realm that will take them through the rest of the record. There are weird radio broadcasts on a number of songs that fade in and out, which truly make you feel like you may not be on this planet anymore even though it’s clearly a familiar signal you’re hearing.
The sprawling 12-minute epic “Slow Night’s Static” is a guitar that drones in and out of focus as more of these distorted radio signal broadcasts are just out of reach of your ear behind the guitar. It’s hypnotic, beautiful, and like nothing, William Tyler has done before. This serene track must be that feeling of literally being between life and death, just waves of ease washing over you. He leaves us with “Pisces Backroads”, another euphoric track that feels hymnal and ends on a high note. As the record ends you might feel like you have reached a spiritual awakening or wonder where you just traveled to over the last 39 minutes. Listen on Bandcamp
Tiana Major9 – At Sixes and Sevens
Nine songs clocking in at a little over twenty minutes is a hell of a way to make your debut EP be short, sweet, and to the point and that is exactly what Tiana Major9 has done here. “…Exclusively” shows off her vocals and beautiful harmonies that she can sing with herself. It also showcases that she will say exactly what she wants and how she feels. “Lucky” has a classic 90’s groove to it that will instantly get stuck in your head. The three spoken word tracks “(I Accept My Emotions)”, “(Open to Love)”, and “(What Is Mine)” are all loud self-affirmations for Tiana and the listener to know their self-worth. In a year that has been as hard as this one, sometimes you need to say and hear these things.
“Collide”, her collaboration with EARTHGANG for the Queen and Slim Soundtrack, shows up on this EP and it’s so damn infectious showing up at the halfway point. The Jamaican infused “Thinking About You – Notion Mix” bounces through the speakers with the joy of a new love. “Real Affair” is another 90’s throwback but leaning more far more into hip hop this time and she sounds great in that setting. Tiana really shows off her powerful voice in the R & B tinged closer “Same Space”. It’s a hell of a debut and an acoustic companion EP was released in mid-December showing that these songs can stand on their own. Listen on Spotify
Gunn-Truscinski Duo – Soundkeeper
This is a droning psychedelic freakout 12 song masterpiece of a record. These songs take their time in finding their footing. Steve Gunn and John Truscinski have been playing together for a decade and the ease in which they dance around one another is just a thing of beauty. Gunn’s guitar work floats from ear to ear creating soundscapes over Truscinski’s drumming eventually melting into one another throughout the record. Most times while listening to this you get a feeling that they are sound-tracking scenes from movies that haven’t been made yet: traveling, “Valley Spiral”, running for your life, “Gam”, and a gun duel, “Northwest”. “Pyramid Merchandise” and “Soundkeeper” were both recorded live, and though this is a studio album, I love that there are some live recordings on here. It really shows that while one can create these pieces in the studio away from everyone, to reproduce it in person is absolutely amazing. Listen through your headphones and prepare to get lost for 70 minutes. Listen on Bandcamp
Allegra Krieger – The Joys Of Forgetting
I came to this record through the photographer of the cover and they didn’t steer me wrong here. This record starts off slow but truly builds to blow you away by the time you reach “Forgot”. Allegra’s voice is a wave of joy in a rough year. On “Welcome” her self harmonizing is gorgeous and plays well off the string section that comes in to overtake the track halfway through before it becomes a western waltz again. The arrangements of these songs are stunning. “Telephone” shimmers and glides along while Allegra calls for human connection rather than interacting through devices. The album floats along delicately until “Forgot” which just comes at you harder than anything up to that point. It ends in a glory of mashing up off-kilter drumming, an echoing of voices and slashing guitar chords that just cut right through you. “Rot” brings some welcomed rock and roll vibes to the record that continue into “Come In”, which ends in another great loud convergence by the musicians. The string section in “I’m Gonna Drive” swell as Allegra cries out “thing things you’ve been after” is heartbreaking. Allegra has a bright future ahead, this was her first LP, and it will be great to hear where she takes her arrangements and writing next. Listen on Bandcamp
JARV IS… – Beyond The Pale
The ex-Pulp frontman came back this year with his strongest solo record yet. I know it’s technically a new band, but it’s his album. It’s a mix of live recordings the band did and a bunch of overdubs they did on those recordings in the studio, which makes for this interesting mix that he and the band called not a live recording but an “alive recording”. Jarvis Cocker knows how to entertain and make you interested and this just adds to it. “Save The Whale”. “Must I Evolve” has his signature spoken-word delivery set to this great driving track and is spurned into full-on rock and roll revival with the help of the chorus behind him chanting along. “House Music All Night Long” is an end of the night disco song that ushers you into the morning sun. “Sometimes I Am Pharoah” is a freaky affair with Jarvis’s vocals sounding like they are underwater as the music is menacing as if the band took the scariest parts of The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” and made a track out of it. This record is meant to be played late at night dancing around your home when you should actually be sleeping. Listen on Spotify
Coupons – Up & Up
And another band from the Capital Region of New York coming in hot to this list. Coupons is a band made up of some of the best songwriters of the area. This album wasn’t supposed to exist as everyone was doing their own thing, but the universe brought the group back together to make this happen. They also had a preview show for some of these songs the weekend before lockdown and it was magical and one of the best memories of the year. Dan LaFave and Collin Reynolds are the main songwriters of the group, but Dan Maddalone’s songwriting contributions on this record are fantastic. “90’s Kids” kicks us off with a pseudo Kinks tune with those beautiful weird 60’s organ noises that hit right before the chorus. “Moz Disco” rips with soaring guitars, a disco drum beat, and strong vocals by Collin.
“I Wanted” would have fit right in with the punk of the early 2000’s with its gruff vocals and driving guitar chords. “Synesthesia” shows the band can get loose and jam a little, letting some funky guitar solos fly all over the place. “Hard Candy” continues the weirdness, going in and out of this spacey whirlwind and a more folky vibe. “Ansel” is easily one of the saddest songs of the year, dealing with the death of a friend. “The Beginning” and “Tongues” are both upbeat rockers musically ready to make you bop around the house. The record ends on a cathartic “Cars (Part 2)” loosely connecting their two albums, this and Number One Hit Album from 2016, together. This band truly could play any room in the country and wow you, but you know pandemic. Listen on Bandcamp
Oceanator – Things I Never Said
Late summer rock and roll is always a reason to celebrate. Hitting the internet, and your local record stores, in late August was Oceanator’s debut record. It was originally going to be released on Tiny Engines, but when that ship went down she saved it and put it out on her own, and next year Polyvinyl is going to be re-releasing it. Pretty good turn of events honestly. “Crack in the World” hits a little harder this year with Elise Okusami belting out “and I’m still trying my best you know it keeps getting harder and harder every day”. She sings this while the music thrashes you around, much as this year has. This record screams to be played live with tracks like “Hide Away” and “January 21st” just wanting to bust out of their confines.
The main guitar riff in “Heartbeat” is one of the most uplifting of the year and the song itself is straight out of a late 90’s or early 00’s movie montage. Elise sings with and over herself on “I Would Find You” and it’s strangely hypnotic. “The Sky is Falling” begins quietly as anger slowly builds up until the music cannot be held back any longer and the guitar swoops in to get it out all as the rest of the band picks up as well. It’s the heaviest song on the album. We are left with “Sunshine” telling us we can be ok on our own. It may not be ideal this year, but self-love is something we all need sometimes. Listen on Bandcamp
Anjimile – Giver Taker
There is not much to add to the conversation of Anjimile’s first album that hasn’t been said. He has absolutely made an album that was a breakthrough record, appearing on many best of lists to close the year out. I had the opportunity to see them in February, you know before the world ended, and I remember hearing them mention a new album was on the way or in the works. Before I left that night I remember going up to him and saying thank you for a stunning opening set and how I was looking forward to the record coming. That night I was blown away and amazed. I have been so happy to see this record get the coverage it deserves. A lot has happened in his life already and to get all of this validation must feel tremendous, especially this year.
If “Baby No More” doesn’t make you get up and dance then you literally have joy left at all, it’s an incredibly infectious track. You can feel both pain in not being accepted and strength in knowing you’re on the right path on “In Your Eyes”. The swirling orchestration in “1978” is stunning. “Maker” is a complete reconciliation with how they were brought up and how they want to live the rest of their life. The chorus of “I’m not just a boy, I’m a man, I’m not just a man, I’m a god, I’m not just a god, I’m a maker” is such an affirming this is me and I’m rising above it all. Get acquainted with Anjimile now because the sky is the limit here. Listen on Bandcamp
Kurt Vile – Speed, Sound, LonelyKV (ep)
I’m ending this with someone you most likely know, and if you don’t you’re missing out. Any release from Kurt Vile is a good one, but this one reaches back to three and a half years ago to the present and it’s such a good reminder of how good Kurt is. I think many people may have missed this EP because of its release date in early October when it seemed every five minutes there was new national news about the administration. The album was recorded at The Butcher Shoppe studio in Nashville, TN with session musicians from the area. The project kicked off with Kurt covering John Prine’s “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness” in a relaxed comfortable way with one of the owners of the studio helping record it, the other being John himself, who wasn’t in attendance but did wind up hearing the version.
When Kurt came back down later that year he got to meet John, who had nothing but nice things to say to him about the cover. I mean meeting a hero like that and having them like your version of their song has to be so special. They wound up recording another cover of John’s last year, “How Lucky”, and it must have been an out of body experience for Kurt as he has stated it’s his favorite moment in music ever. The two originals “Dandelions” and “Pearls” are regular Kurt Vile songs twinged with Nashville magic. Regular doesn’t mean bad here, Kurt is a great writer, but what I do love about them is this aura of Kurt not quite belonging there and these beautiful songs coming together with the ghosts of the room swirling about. The fifth song is a cover of Cowboy Jack Clement’s “Gone Girl”. Clement is another hero of Kurt’s and since he had recorded there plenty of times, you can feel Kurt trying to do his song justice at the studio. I really want a complete Kurt Vile Nashville record now. Listen on Spotify
Thank you for checking in and hopefully getting some new records to listen to as we head out of this hellscape of a year and into the next one. Check out a bunch of albums I enjoyed from this year on this playlist – Albums and single tracks on this one – Tracks. See you all in 2021.