Artwork by Anthony Bauer

Before we dive in I would like to apologize for being a couple of weeks late with this. Shows have started again and while I have been photographing some and staying on top of those assignments, other things, such as this article fell behind. Can’t have it all man. Ok, now on with it!

Well here we are at the end of the second quarter and its summer, so we can celebrate right? People are getting vaccines, seeing loved ones, hanging outside together in parks, maybe seeing some outdoor shows. We aren’t quite back to regular life, but it feels like we’re trending in the right direction.

Some albums I forgot from the first quarter include the stunning fifth album Ignorance by The Weather Station, the glorious debut Thanks For Coming by Princess Goes To The Butterfly Museum, the guest-filled The Shadow of Their Suns by Wax Tailor, the very groovy and heady Pacific Kiss by Rat Columns, Th1rt3en and Pharoahe Monch coming together for the powerful A Magnificent Day For An Exorcism, the very danceable debut album Times by SG Lewis, the serene vibes of Everything Happens For A Reason by Greens, and a very cool compilation put together by Astralwerks and Blue Note Records called Bluewerks Vol 1 (as well as Volume 2 out during the second quarter). As usual, there is just too much music that comes out to remember it all. Whoops.

Like last time I won’t be including things you will probably have read about ad nauseum such as Lucy Dacus’s third album, Bachelor’s debut, St. Vincent’s early 70’s homage, the reimagined Paul McCartney album with guests, Olivia Rodrigo’s debut, black midi’s sophomore effort, Garbage’s late-career effort, Japanese Breakfast’s beloved latest upbeat album, yet another release from King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, and at the last minute of the quarter the latest album from Tyler, The Creator. Go look those up and enjoy as you would like to, but read on to dig, hopefully deep, into things you may have missed in the second quarter of 2021.

100 Psychic Dreams – Bronze Stroker – An electronic masterpiece that John Carpenter would be proud of.

100 Psychic Dreams latest album was made a ton of different synthesizers and sounds like it came from the future via the ’80s and soundtracks the best horror movie you’ve never seen. The album begins with “The Doctor Dances in the White Room” and is filled with break beats and what sounds like horns blaring, setting the table for the wild half-hour ride you’re going to take. “Tomb with a View” could make for an excellent beat for a rapper to take to the next level, but also completely works as its own piece. I can’t help but hear “Advanced Candle Magick” as being a long-lost sister track to “Call of the Zombie” off of Rob Zombie’s Hellbilly Deluxe. Tracks like “Bronze Stoker” and “Lumberjacks on LSD” sound like the beginning of early b-movie sci-fi films launched through the soundscape of hip-hop beats. The way the break beats in “Year of the Sleeper” hit are absolutely to die for. It almost sounds like he was using a turntable while mixing it. The album ends in a cavalcade of high-pitched dreamlike notes repeating, giving you the feeling that you just imagined everything that your ears just heard.

al Riggs – I Got A Big Electric Fan to Keep Me Cool While I Sleep – A great triumph of a country album.

There has been a push by many bigger names in country music to make it more inclusive and let any and all folks tell their stories in that genre. The people I’m speaking of are folks like Brandi Carlile, Jason Isbell, Margo Price, and those that play with them at festivals and on albums. There’s no reason this push hasn’t happened outside of the last few years and I’m sure they would all enjoy the hell out of this new album by al Riggs. It’s a beautiful queer country twelve track album that hits you hard and never stops. Their way of painting stories in their songs is something every songwriter aspires to have. “Long Light Mantle” transports you to this beautiful domestic relationship and makes you feel like you’re right there. There’s brightly colored instrumentation all over this album and should get you hooked immediately. “America’s Pencil” is a haunting track about being young and thinking you’re discovering things for the first time in history. “Blighted By The light” feels like a fever dream with Chuck Johnson’s amazing pedal-steel work. “Emo Revival” details the birth and death of the musical movement in a stunning eulogy. The music fits a “country album” but the topic certainly doesn’t, but al takes the idea of eulogizing moments or people that are often seen in the genre and makes it their own. The unapologetic joy of “Ragged But Right” is so damn wholesome and should make you get up and dance. The influx of new voices to genres is so important to keep them alive and moving along with the times. This album does just that and should leave you with a smile on your face.

Allison Russell – Outside Child – A stunning solo debut from one of the best songwriters around.

Through the 11 songs on this album, Allison Russell deals with her entire life up to this moment. She went through a lot at a young age and has come out the other side to the amazing artist we know today, stronger than ever. Allison used the album to not only reclaim her own life, but to light the fire for any survivor out there, and show that there is strength in coming face to face with your past. “Montreal” kicks right off with jackals taking her from her home and the trauma that followed. Immediately following this is “Nightflyer”, with what Allison calls “the most defiantly triumphant, hopeful line I’ve ever written” with the line “I am the mother of the evening star, I am the love that conquers all”. The line is about the birth of her daughter and how it changed her. The song is stunning with Allison’s voice just taking you in and holding you tight. It’s stunning to me that this her debut album. Having been to Newport many times, I feel like I’ve seen her there every year, but it’s always been with other bands and their music. “Persephone” is a brightly colored beautiful song that feels like a ray of sunshine. “The Runner” has guest vocals from Yola and deal with Russell running from home and it truly feels like you’re right alongside her on the song. All of the pain she went through echoes through her voice on “All Of The Women”. The way “Little Rebirth” is mostly just her voice and a banjo before a storm comes in and washes it all away will give you goosebumps on every listen. Allison has truly made a masterpiece here and has shown how art can save us from the horrors of life.

Amythyst Kiah – Wary + Strange – The third album from this great singer-songwriter that opens up new sonic highways to explore.

Amythyst Kiah is one of the strongest voices in music today. You may know her from the group Our Native Daughters, with Rhiannon Giddens, Leyla McCalla, and Allison Russell, or from her two other solo albums, but if this is your jumping on point, it’s a fantastic album to begin with. The album comes out of the gates with a one-two punch of “Soapbox” and “Black Myself”. In these two songs are her mission statement of I don’t care how you would do it and I’m a proud Black woman who knows how you look at me, but I’m going to do all of this anyway. Amythyst is known for singing and playing American roots music, but this album rocks in a way she hasn’t before. That’s not to say every song is a rock number but “Hangover Blues” and “Sleeping Queen” have that edge to it that feels like a new roadway for her to explore sonically. “Wild Turkey” has Amythyst dealing with the death of her mother that happened when she was just a teenager. “Fancy Drones (Fracture Me)” is straight-up blues with that bass harmonica and Mellotron making it sound like it never has before. The pain in her voice while singing the beginning of “Tender Organs” can be felt all the way to your bones and when that slinky guitar line comes in you just want to throw your hands in the air. It’s such a great moment on an album full of great moments. We come full circle on the album as “Soapbox (Reprise)” closes it out with a slightly different version of the song and it’s a perfect ending yet again saying I’m doing things my way and I don’t care what you think of it. Amythyst is a force to be reckoned with and hopefully more folks are paying attention now.

Art d’Ecco – In Standard Definition – The injection of glam-rock that this year needed.

The kickdrum and an angelic voice kick the record off strong in “Desires” and we never get our feet back under us for the next 11 songs. “Desires”, like many of the songs on the album, are full of catchy choruses, great production, foot-stomping music, and bass lines that will get you up dancing. “TV God” feels like it came right out of the mid-70’s with that refrain “he’ll never come down”. There’s much talk of analog ideas on this album such as “Nothing Ever Changes” mentions cutting the cord, “In Standard Definition” is literally about watching old movies, and “The Message” talks about losing signals while broadcasting. The album was also recorded on tape, another nod to how things used to be. The two instrumental tracks, “Channel 7 (Pilot Season)” and “Channel 11 (Reruns)” both sound like something you would hear late at night while flipping channels on some UHF station or random music that would play between shows before commercials really were the end all be all of television. The one-two punch of “I Am The Dancefloor” and “Headrush” in the middle of the album is just a rocking six minutes. If you’re not up out of your seat while listening to these, then the music just isn’t for you. ‘In Standard Definition” calls to 70’s Bowie, think Heroes era, in the way it just builds and builds until the conclusion of the song. The album closes with “I Remember”, a song about memories, and it feels only fitting after the previous 10 songs speak to things that don’t quite exist anymore.

Calo – Last year was a beautiful, terrible mess – A stunning display of the genre-hopping and production.

Made while under quarantine, these six songs are a wild beautiful affair. The Boston-based saxophonist Calo did all of the production, songwriting, mixing, and most of the instrumentation. The album moves from jazz to funk to hip hop to r&b to rock without any care about genres or your thoughts on them. Despite how all of that looks, the album is cohesive and moves at a sprint. “b-movie” kicks us off with a fast-paced acid-jazz movement. Anjali Rose joins on vocals on “so many lifetimes” where she repeats the phrase with ease as the track is cut up and almost sounds like it’s skipping, making the entire song feel like you’re tripping. JoiBeatz seemingly doesn’t breathe as she raps on “house party” over the danceable music that is anchored by very deep bass notes that reverberate in your body. “lonewolf” feels like the beginning of a Radiohead song that never ends and then instead of Thom Yorke’s voice, a mixture of the saxophone and loops come in to steer the track. The last song, “asmr”, features mitamu on vocals on the back half of the song, completely distorted sounding like another instrument, as the music swells and eventually leads to a sole piano coming out of the noise before it all comes to an end.

Caroline Kingsbury – Heaven’s Just A Flight – 80’s pop to get you up and dancing.

What a tremendous debut full length album of glorious pop music. “Fall In Love” is absolutely a song that should be turned up high all summer long, blasting from your speakers and shaking your windows in your home or car. “16” is the story of how so much happens at that age and how things only get worse from then on. There’s a lot of influence from The Killers all over the album and there are worse bands to be influenced by. They are one of the biggest rock acts today and that mixture of big choruses and great hooks always works. Caroline has plenty of both on many of the 16 songs on this album like on “Breaking Apart”, “Give Me a Sign”, and “Kissing Someone Else”. With the past year of isolation, “In My Brain” feels like it was written for this exact moment when we’ve been with just ourselves and want to come out, but are struggling with it. The title track is one of the catchiest of the album that is guaranteed to get stuck in your head. I think we’re going to hear about Caroline for years to come and some of these songs are going to become arena anthems.

Chestnut Grove – The Album – Good old fashion rock and roll for the soul.

Chestnut Grove is a five-piece band based right outside of Philly and they are an old-school good-time party band. When you see them live, you’re going to have a good time. There’s no question about it. When that first note hits, it’s off to the races. “Golden Age” kicks off in the same. That first note goes loud and you just need to strap in for the ride. The playing all over the album is tremendous with blazing guitar playing, a very tight rhythm section, and stunning harmonies from co-lead singers and drummers James Daniels and Dee Gerhart. “Newspaper Hats” is classic southern rock but with a Northeast attitude. The ballad of the album, “I Know Somebody”, gives off some Black Crowes vibes in the best way imaginable. The chanting in “Funk Yeah”  brings some New Orleans feels the album. “Out in the Rain” has a scorching solo that definitely will be jammed out once the band starts playing live again and shows off Dee’s impressive vocal abilities. The dream-like quality that the slide guitars give “No Love” makes the track an absolute stand-out and shows yet another side of the band. These cats keep you on your toes and The Album is such a good introduction to them. Get out there and see them live to turn into a full-fledged member of the gospel that they produce.

CHILLEMI – With Woman – Transport yourself to a quite easy going part of the country that’s both haunted and beautiful.

“Neon Bride” has a cool swagger announcing how this album is gonna go. We are dropped right in and you need to continue to run alongside the songs to keep up with it, thankfully the pace isn’t too quick. “Strangers” continues this old western feel with those chords just screaming we’re out in the desert, Brian pleads to want to always know this person he is speaking to for the rest of his life.  Kyle Avallone, who made the list last year, played on and produced this record which lends the same type of orchestrations on this album as the one he released last year. Each song moves along at a fairly slow pace, in no rush to breeze past your ears. Every note wants to be heard, thought of,  and taken to its fullest extent. The guitar solo in “Working Creature” just sears through your brain and stays there well after the song is over. Brian’s voice at times has this Dylan-esque quality to it and it makes these songs sound grand in a way that is just hard to recreate. ‘Friend” has a glorious haunting feel to it with the Wurlitzer dotting notes here and there and gorgeous harmonica playing that would make Neil Young smile. The Wurlitzer comes alive again in “Love” as it plays off some great guitar work. The way Brian whisper sings the word love will make you feel like he is talking to you and only you. While listening to “Motel Song” you can picture every little moment that takes place with the great descriptive lyrics Brian wrote up for it, it’s quite the tale. We end on “Evil Eye”, with guest vocalist Nasa Hadizadeh, creating a wonderful duet. This is a slow-burn album that will hopefully get some accolades at the end of the year.

Daniel Bachman – Axacan – Just an album you have to experience.

Daniel Bachman hasn’t created a musical album per se. It’s a mixture of music and sound recordings and is probably the most avant-garde album of the year. It’s scary, dreary, personal, spiritual, and ultimately beautiful. The album is anchored by the 17 minute “Blue Ocean 0” which is truly a force to be reckoned with. The waves that he recorded in the field are mixed with acoustic guitar and harmonium, which creates this otherworldly mix. I first listened to this album late at night on a drive and my head went right to each track being its own horror movie. Considering he recorded everything last year, which for many was a horror movie, the songs fit the bill. The buzzing of bugs and chirps of birds kick off the album on “Accokeek Creek”, slowly bringing us into this world we’re going to live within for over an hour and gives right into “Blues in the Anthropocene” as a guitar comes in and what sounds like metal is being dragged through the night “Big Summer” sounds as if it were recorded in the 1920’s with the echo that Bachman uses it to make it seem as if the guitar is just out of tune and wobbly. “WBRP 47.5” flips across a radio station, coming back to the same couple of words over and over, creating this scary time loop that you can’t escape. “Coronach” follows and it an amazing piece of guitar work by Bachman that is such a wonderful slow burn as his fingers fly up and down the neck. There is literally no other piece of work out there this year that sounds like this and you should immediately take an hour and put some headphones on to check this out.

Fiver – Fiver with the Atlantic School of Spontaneous Composition – A country album that feels more like an experiment in avant-garde composition.

I mean you could call this a country album, but it’s so much more. The album never quite touches down on Earth and that is thanks to the amazing band that Simone Schmidt recorded this album with. While they are an amazing player and wordsmith on their own, bringing in the Atlantic School of Spontaneous Composition really pushes this album to the next level. “Leaning Hard (On My Peripheral Vision)” is the perfect example of this. Simone’s lyrics bob and weave through the spacey countrified music the band produces to create this beast that seems longer than its 3:57 run time, in a good way. On the opposite end is “Jr Wreck” where it’s mainly just their voice and a piano, with a small chorus behind them at times, which gives this song the feel of Fiona Apple outtake. “Death Is Only A Dream” uses that aesthetic again and speaks about paradise being right now while being alive, not after you die. “Sick Gladiola” is a waltz that layers instruments and voices so beautifully that you can get lost in it all day, especially once that saxophone hits for a brief moment. “Paid In Pride” builds an infectious disco beat that you cannot stop grooving to before slowly dissolving into a quiet acoustic end, creating a beautiful dichotomy and going directly into the peaceful last track “For Your Sake” that begins with Jeremy Costello’s synths and wordless wails. Simone and the Atlantic School really did something special here and I hope they have more collaborations in the future.

Flyte – This Is Really Going To Hurt – A beautiful sophomore affair that you cannot stop spinning.

If you’re on this site then you know the love that everyone has for Flyte here  The harmonies, the musicianship, the songwriting, hell pretty much everything having to do with the band. Well, it shouldn’t surprise you that this has made the list. The album is filled with loss and pain and how one deals with that and makes it out to the other side. As their debut album, harmonies reign supreme here. It’s truly still stunning to listen to how their voices come together and create this sonic wall. The music only helps direct your ears to their voices. The music isn’t an afterthought, it’s just perfectly placed to make the listener’s ears zero in on the vocals. The album moves through the various stages of grief and realization as a relationship ends, which is what guitarist and vocalist Will Taylor was dealing with as an eight-year relationship dissolved, most directly addressed in “Losing You”. The band also had to deal with one of their members, Sam Berridge, leaving the band as he fell out of the love for playing and traveling, with “I’ve Got A Girl” speaking to that event. With so much pain and heartache, the band found a path to healing themselves and making this incredible album. You would think it would be all sad slow songs, but they went in the opposite direction and made a cathartic and at times rocking set of songs. As This Is Really Going To Hurt reaches its end, “Mistress America” is truly optimistic and hopeful, and “Never Get To Heaven” gives a little coda of reaching an end and being able to move on to the next thing with nothing but green skies ahead.

Grave Flowers Bongo Band – Strength Of Spring – A monster of a sophomore album that wants you to turn the volume way up.

On their sophomore effort, Grave Flowers Bongo Band keeps the energy high and the weirdness flowing. The album was produced by the one and only Ty Segall and he helps the six-piece along to find new heights. “Lazy River” kicks us off with a rollicking track that twists and turns and takes off into outer space, where you find the rest of the album. If you’ve been following much of the psychedelic rock movement of the past few years with King Gizzard and Kikagaku Moyo, Grave Flowers Bongo Band should be next in your listening experience. The acoustic guitar playing that is mixed deep in the background of many of the songs that the sax, moog synths, and pedal-steel guitar dance over creates this juxtaposition that is just pleasant to the ear. If you can’t rock out to these songs, you’ve lost the rock and roll spirit. “Tomorrow” starts off like it’s going to be the calm song of the album, but then the fuzzed guitar work comes in and smacks you in the face, in the best way possible. “Smile” was the lead single, it’s a whopper of a track moves between Led Zeppelin 3 and Black Sabbath style breakdowns. “Outer Bongolia” is a fantastic groovy instrumental that I wish were about ten minutes longer, and may in person they would stretch it out that far. It’s one of those grooves that you just want to wrap yourself up in for a bit and tune everything else in the world out. There’s some magic that was put into this album that comes completely unglued in the last few seconds of the last song, “Down Man”, that the universe just couldn’t contain anymore and we hit a wall and the music just ends more than fades out. It’s a powerful ending and shows that these guys have a lot more left in the tank.

Jake Manzi – Whatever My Heart Allows – A stunning collection of easy-going songs that harken back to the ’70s.

This blistering debut album by Jake Manzi kicks off with “One To” that builds to quite the stunning guitar solo. The album doesn’t have a ton of this, but when it rears its head, watch out. For the most part, it’s folky quieter songs that are dotted with moments of beautiful electric instruments. Jake had a great cast of musicians helping him out with these songs including Don Was, Madison Cunningham, Mikaela Davis, and Griffin and Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes. To have your first album have musicians of this quality on it says a lot. Lead single and title track “Whatever My Heart Allows” has such a great pedal-steel guitar part, played by Ryan Hommel, that is so good you are instantly hooked and then the lyrics take your brain to the realization that we have to follow our hearts, whether we want to or not. The string quartet in “You Can’t Hear Me” really takes this album to new highs as you get to the end of the first half. “How Long This Time” is about waiting for answers and never getting them. It’s really the space between Jake’s voice and the instrumentation that makes this album what it is. There’s so much tension and emotion that goes into it. On “Let Her Sway” you just want the song to burst at the seams, but it stays inside of the between spaces and it’s just a stunning song. “No Place Is Home” feels like a Nebraska-era Springsteen outtake. I love that the album ends on this breezy guitar jam in “Break” and fades out into the ether. I’m already pining for the next album from Jake.

Jeffrey Silverstein – Torii Gates – A perfect six song set for sunny summer days.

This EP is one to just vibe out to. The opening track, “Caught Behind The Hours” starts with a discussion about what an out-of-body experience is and then goes into one of the most peaceful jams put to tape this year. Having seen traditional torii  gates in Japan, this whole record speaks to the feelings I had while there. There is a beauty to them all and all you can do is smile. As the music continues on this EP, the only thing to do is surrender and smile. “Trip Sitter” has stunning pedal-steel work by Barry Walker Jr. that evokes a perfect trip you went on where nothing went wrong and all you have are golden memories. When I find an album that can just calm down everything happening in life, I play it constantly in hopes that it will just make everything better. The middle of the EP, “River Running By” and “Soft Lens” scream an ideal summer day where time just moves so slowly, there’s nothing to do, and you just let the day take you where it wants to. The instrumental “Beginner’s Mind” comes next, feeling like a spiritual journey through the forest as you step over fallen trees and leaves before you get to the peak, happy you made and feeling accomplished. “Flowers on the Highway” has Jeffrey speaking to someone telling them he trusts them. Feel some serenity in these crazy times and let this album float into your ears.

John Andrews & The Yawns – Cookbook – Put your feet up and relax a bit as you take in these songs.

There’s an ease that comes with this album that feels like you’ve stepped back in time to some mid 70’s hangout out in the country, far from the city, where life just moves slow. “New California Blue” takes a cue from “Crystal Blue Persuasion” with those opening piano chords and the way Andrews’s voice is just out of focus. It’s a great start to the album and it just stays in that wheelhouse for the next nine songs. The piano solo on “Ain’t That Right” in the middle of the song is gorgeous. He isn’t doing anything fancy or wild to wow you, yet that is still the reaction that should come; it just feels good. While many scoff at some of the toned-down unhip music of the mid to late 70’s (you know yacht rock) there is a time and place for it and summer is the perfect time to blast this one loud and just hang outside. The album does have different vibes though with “Early Hours of the Morning” being an acoustic guitar-driven song, “Song for the Gonz” moving into jazz territory, and “Thankyou” sounding like a jam The Band may have settled in on at Big Pink.

Julian Lage – Squint – The Blue Note Records debut of one of the best guitarists in the world today.

The first thing that comes to mind when you hear the name Julian Lage should be his ridiculous guitar work. I mean the man can just flat out play the hell out of the instrument. What’s special about Lage is the way he can play literally any type of music he desires. Squint opens with “Etude”, a solo piece that is like a ray of sunshine that peaks through the trees, sitting there letting you admire it. The band kicks in on song two, “Boo’s Blues” and we’re off to the races. Bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Dave King form his trio and they just gel together so well. They each leave spaces for one another and while Lage is the draw here, each member gets their moments in every song to shine. As they weave in and out of one another your jaw should hit the floor multiple times. The title track really sounds like it’s going to go in 50 different directions at times, but they are so good at teasing that yet keeping the song in it’s confines, it is truly mind-boggling. “Saint Rose” sounds at times what Talking Heads would sound like playing jazz, “Day and Age” is an easy-going waltz, and “Twilight Surfer” is the blues dressed up nicely. Lage is one of those musicians you can put on no matter what mood you’re in and immediately a smile will come across your face because he just did a run of notes that sounds like an impossibility, but he did it so easily and you just need to laugh about it.

La Femme – Paradigmes – Everything and the kitchen sink is right here for your pleasure.

French pop-rock group La Femme have been around for over a decade and not enough of you know this. They have been putting out a steady diet of new wave psychedelic pop rock much, which would be much to your ears’ delight if you’ve been paying attention. Their latest album has so many influences it’s ridiculous. There’s some big band 20’s jazz (“Paradigme”), The Clash (“Foutre le bordel”), Ennio Morricone (Lacher de chevaux”), and Radiohead (“Le jardin”). In the middle of the album we have “Disconnexion” and “Foreigner”. The two songs are powerhouses and I can only imagine how great they will be live. “Disconnexion” begins in total new wave glory with a driving beat and then moves towards sounding like LCD Soundsystem once the lyrics begin before completely changing again with a banjo coming in, turning the entire song on it’s head. “Foreigner” meanwhile is the only song sung in English and is a synthpop masterpiece that needs to be turned up loud in a tiny club as folks dance their cares away. La Femme also know how to relax and take it slow, as they did with “Va” which is a laid-back synth-oriented salsa. I love that the band can show all of these influences, but completely make it their own thing. You can’t look at any of these tracks and say they are rip-offs of the bands I mentioned, the songs are in their own universe. They are three for three in turning in great albums and I can’t wait for the next one.

Lucy Gooch – Rain’s Break – A stunning EP of ambient music and vocals that will stretch your mind.

While this EP is only five songs, it feels like you could get lost in this for hours. Lucy uses synthesizers and vocal layering throughout the EP in a way that makes the time you spend inside this music feel like you’re on another planet. “Rain’s Break” opens with all of the music and vocals constantly panning back and forth, enveloping you within its walls. There’s a strong influence from both Björk and Kate Bush right off the bat, it’s unmistakable. The synthesizers that scream past your ears during the beginning of “It Brings Me Back To You” help move you through both time and space. “Chained To A Woman” leans far more to 80’s pop in the beginning but by the time the song ends it goes back to outer space and leads directly into “6AM” where the world is just waking up from a long slumber. You can feel the music stretching, trying to awaken, as Lucy’s voice comes in and makes it all dance and move about. The synthesizers are the sun coming up after a long night, triumphantly pushing the darkness away. “Ash and Orange” is slightly different from any other track as Lucy based it around recordings of women’s choirs of the 1930’s. Her voice is not only layered more, but also more upfront than the other tracks. It’s a beautiful ending to a tremendous EP.

Mabe Fratti – Será que ahora podremos entendernos – An album you just have to experience.

Sometimes you get emails about new music and without listening to any of it you know it’s going to be special and this one truly takes the cake. Mabe Fratti is a Guatemalan cellist who uses her voice, synthesizers, cello, and field recordings to make what you’re going to experience. The album translates in English to “Will we be able to understand each other now?” You probably won’t understand any of the lyrics but the music is so evocative. There is a surreal dreamscape quality to it that feels epic on the scale of a soundtrack to a movie. Emotions that you won’t have control over will rise and fall with the music. You’ll wonder how many others have experienced this? Can I communicate and understand those people now? Is there a new shared language that I’m experiencing? Unfortunately, you’ll leave the album without answers, but you’ll have felt so much it won’t really matter. Halfway through the album is “Inicio vínculo Final” and it’s so dense and layered that you’ll feel like you need to take a mental break, as the song feels like you’re on an endless quest and by the end, total exhaustion comes over you. Fight that urge and keep pushing forward and let your brain work overtime to take it all in at once. To see Mabe perform these songs live would be stunning. I would assume she would have to program a little drum machine with all of the extra sounds as she sings and tears up the cello. I’m pretty sure it would be an out-of-body experience and a top concert of the year if it were to happen. Turn the lights out and turn this up loud and just go for the ride.

Maple Glider – To Enjoy is the Only Thing – Nine stories that will stick with you for a lifetime.

Sometimes you just hear a voice and you connect to it instantaneously even if you’re life experiences are completely different. This is what happens when you listen to Tori Zietsch, aka Maple Glider. The amount of pain that she is singing about in album opener “As Tradition” is brutal, but her voice glides through to your ears like an angel. The way she can do this through the album is stunning. “Swimming” has her singing about falling in and out of love. “Friend” sees her thinking about a friendship and band completely falling apart and out of touch. On “Performer” Tori unfurls a story about being in bed with someone she doesn’t even know. These stories she sings about on the album are just a matter of fact, things that she lived through. There isn’t much condemnation to the people or situations she sings about, but just experiences, many of which are relatable in one way or another. Most of the album is just her voice and the strumming and plucking of a guitar, letting you focus on the words more than the music. The exception is “Good Thing” where a full band kicks in halfway through the song and takes the song briefly into indie rock territory before it settles back in to just her voice and a guitar.

Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog – Hope – A absolutely stunning display of musicianship.

The album opens on “B-Flat Ontology” and is a slow eulogy for the last few years and how art isn’t celebrated but a bunch of fools doing mediocre things are being pushed into high society. “Nickelodeon” has a strong grateful dead vibe musically but is on the other end of the spectrum with the lyrics basically being rapped. “Wanna” could be a dance hall number in an underground disco to lose your mind to at 3 AM when it comes on unexpectedly. “Activist” is probably the funniest song on the album where the narrator is against literally everything on the planet no matter how small it is all while the band plays some of the funkiest licks this year. In reality the song is probably asking the listener to take better stances on things in general, but it is funny to listen to Marc ranting. The instrumental tracks that make up the back half of the album are truly something else. “Berth the Cool” is led by just great bass lines that Marc plays over beautifully, still letting Shahzad Ismaily’s bass almost lead the way. Ches Smith’s drumming on the entire album is just jaw dropping. While it may feel like he isn’t doing much, the pocket he creates is gigantic and lets Marc and Shahzad go to town. Darius Jones joins in on alto sax on “They Met in the Middle” and “The Long Goodbye” and more than makes his mark on the music. Two more guests, cellists Rubin Khodeli and Gyda Valtysdottir, come and join for “Maple Leaf Rage” which in it’s 13 minutes of air time has two distinct parts, a spacey slow acoustic melancholy and an electric fuzzed-out mind-bender. The album ends with a great cover of Donovan’s “Wear Your Love Like Heaven”, a favorite of mine that I was surprised showed up on here and the trio makes it wholly their own.

Matt Berry – The Blue Elephant – A stunning collection of songs that time warp you back to peak 60’s psychedelia.

So you might know Matt Berry from What We Do in the Shadows or one of the other millions of things he has been in. He is an absolutely hilarious human. What you may not know is that he has been releasing albums on Acid Jazz Records for a decade. Except for drums, Matt played every instrument on the album. “Summer Sun” feels like the perfect day with the sun shining down on you. The song drips with mid 60’s instrumentation, making the listener think of all the great one hit wonders of the psychedelic era. “Now Disappear” is one of the grooviest songs I’ve heard lately and if you can’t lose yourself within the great interplay between the synths and the guitar, I don’t know what to tell you. “Alone” and “Invisible” truly hit their mark with the mix of ghostly vocals and I believe a Hammond, alongside some amazing drumming by Craig Blundell in the latter song. It feels like you’ve been sucked into a void as the two songs melt into one another and there is no one around to help you out of it. A mix of Bowie, T.Rex, and Lou Reed oozes out of “Blues Inside Me”, creating a definitive glam rock song of 2021. “Life Unknown” has synthesizers that pan from side to side as Berry’s vocals echo underneath them, creating this wild void that is hard to zero in on and completely disorients the listener. This was an unexpected find this year, as I only learned of Berry’s albums, but I am all in on his music as well as his comedy now.

Mdou Moctar – Afrique Victime – A must listen to album for guitar lovers.

On opening track “Chismiten” Mdou Moctar lets you know exactly what is going to be coming on the rest of the album, absolutely wild jaw-dropping guitar work and rhythm section that is going to hypnotize you to death. While each song will wow you musically, some aren’t as loud as others. “Ya Habibti” highlights a quieter acoustic sound while still packing a punch. “Tala Tannam” goes even further into showcasing the quieter side of the band. The song moves in circles as the lyrics are almost whispered at times around the guitar riff that feels like it is circling around your ears. When “Asdikte Akal” starts the back half of the album, all I could think of is that this is basically a modern day Hendrix. The way the song just rips, has an edge of psychedelia, and how his voice is stacked, just made me think of where Hendrix was moving towards. The rhythm section truly holds it all together while the guitar just screams. “Layla” pays tribute to one of Mdou’s heroes, Abdallah Ag Oumbadagou, who was a legendary Niger musicians and political activist. The title track is a seven and a half minute beast that you can dance and headbang to if you wanted to. The groove, while he is singing, will get your hips moving while the instrumentals, which sound like a mix of thrash metal and industrial music, will get your head and hair flying about. I wish more bands and musicians from other parts of the world would catch our ears, but some is better than none.

Mike Block & Sandeep Das – Where the Soul Never Dies – Expand your horizons with the sounds of America and India mashed together to make a singular sound.

Mike Block made it onto one of these lists last year with his release GUZO and I’m happy he’s here again. Block plays the cello, turning into a kaleidoscope of sounds usually and leaving the listener in utter astonishment. For this album he enlisted the help of Sandeep Das who plays the tabla, which is a pair of twin drums that originated in India. Sandeep Das is part of the Silk Road Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma and other amazing musicians and has been playing professionally since 1985. The universe put these two together to bring you this exquisite album. They followed their muses and made new arrangements of songs from Norway (“Fønix”) and America (“Maspiel” and “Glory in the Meeting House”), while also creating experimental interludes based on Indian rhythmic compositions in traditional cycles. It’s a lot to take in and it truly is a stunning piece of work. The way that Block and Das weave around one another is truly special. Listening to the record is like watching two of the top dancers in the world perform for you in an empty room where you are the only audience. What’s captured here sounds like nothing else out there today and should be heard by as many people as possible.

Mythic Sunship – Wildfire – The Copenhagen quintet hit it out of the park again.

When I first found out about these guys I said there’s no way they can keep up this amazing pace of releases and yet here we are five years later and they haven’t let up. The album is only five songs, but those five songs take up about 45 minutes and I for one am not complaining, I just want to let you know the ride you’re in for should you choose to accept. “Maelstrom”  starts at an 11 out of 10 and somehow finds room to get wilder as the song continues. The saxophone and guitar interplay gives off Stooges vibes, while still being drenched in all of that psychedelic glory the band is known for.  The guitar solos in “Olympia”  twist and turn and will absolutely make your head spin. By the end of the song you wish it were happening in person just so you can cheer on for more of what just took place. There is patience to the way the band plays and “Landfall” shows that perfectly. It isn’t all out all the time, the middle section of the song has this great interplay from everyone where the entire band just plays a little quieter before ramping back up again. “Redwood Grove”  channels some of the heaviest vibes on the album before making an abrupt turn and then back again. “Going Up”  sums up the tension and release that Mythic SunLucyship is so good at. What they are able to do is what so many bands wish they could do. So strap in and hold on tight and play this one loud.

nasimiYu – P O T I O N S – A masterpiece to let you body move to.

It’s honestly hard to describe this album. nasimiYu played every single note you hear on the ten tracks. P OT I O N S feels like it’s the soundtrack to a grand dance recital, which makes sense since she a very accomplished dancer as well as musican. Opening track “Watercolor” is the beginning where you’re stretching and getting ready for the routine. You’re getting in touch with your feelings, grounding your body, quieting the voice in your head that never ceases so you can do your routine. “Immigrant” is vibrant and uplifting and has the routine opening up to wow you with new possibilities. The grooves here are exceptional and will make you move your body, there’s no way you cannot. The layering of music and vocals makes every song so incredibly dense. There are portions of “White Lightning” and “Parasite” and “Secretsecret” that you absolutely get lost in trying to follow the sound collage being made. Back to the dance routine, we were discussing though with “Who Are You”, that is the beginning of the finale of the  album. The body is wildly moving and feels unstoppable. “Ceremony” is the climax of it all that starts off slow and just builds and builds until your body can give no more. “Archipelago” is the coda to the whole routine that eventually leaves you laying on the floor motionless as the music fades away and then stops completely. This should be an album of the year  contender and really needs to be heard by everyone.

Page Mcconnell – Maybe We’re The Visitors – Music to make you rethink your place in the cosmos.

Yes, I’m including a member of Phish on this list. No I don’t care about your thoughts on “jambands”. This album was done completely on synthesizers and it goes deep into the outer realms of space and time. He began recording the album in Iceland and throughout the lockdown finished it up in Burlington. The whole album feels like a journey through endless abandoned areas of the planet, where you might be the last human around and you’re seeing how little we truly mattered. “Radio Silence” is the feeling of loneliness as you call out, using the latest technology, and not getting any response as you see the vast emptiness of the planet in front of you. The eeriness that is evoked from “Moss Suite, Pt. 1” makes you feel so small and then the landscape begins to change in “Terra Incognita”. You reach what might be a town of people on “Outpost” and you explore it during “The Settlement”, but yet you find nothing but abandoned buildings filled with memories. It’s sad but ultimately beautiful. You stay for a short amount of time (“Passage”), before something finally visits you (“The Visitor”). This organism is unlike anything you’ve ever seen and describes the universe to you (“Set In Stone”) which makes you truly realize how little you are (“Maybe We’re The Visitors”). This album is begging to be the soundtrack to a movie. Make sure to listen to this one on a good pair of headphones to take it all in.

Paul Jacobs – Pink Dogs on The Green Grass – A perfect album to blast to help have a great summertime adventure.

The album starts innocently enough with a few hits of some bongos on “Christopher Robbins” but what you get over the 13 tracks is psychedelic folk meeting garage rock to soothe your soul. You probably know Paul as the drummer in Pottery, a group you should be listening to if you don’t. What you may not know is Paul has been doing his own projects for a decade already. This album is perfect for summer with its warm synth vibes and brightly colored up-tempo tunes. The album doesn’t fly right by you either, the songs take their time as they bob and weave in your headphones, making you take stock in what you’re listening to and trying to decipher the instrumentation and lyrics. “Most Delicious Drink” screams bright sunshine to me as you’re walking on the beach. “Cherry” swirls around from ear to ear just out of reach and hits that sweet spot of 60’s psychedelia that you can’t help but smile to. The spoken word epic of “Dancing With the Devil” is one of the funniest songs I’ve heard in a while, but the groove Paul finds on the song is so killer. It’s as though he plucked a song from Arthur Brown’s catalog and made it his own. The song is definitely the outlier of the album as there is nothing else that sounds like it. “Your Lost Words” is filled with reverb and makes the lyrics blend in with the instrumentation, really making the title of this song stick. The album ends with “Hello Sunshine”, a quick psychedelic stomp that fades out into space, leaving you in a melancholy state to go about your day.

Pom Pom Squad – Death of a Cheerleader – A punk rock tour de force that isn’t afraid to lean into some Wall of Sound production.

Mia Berrin has created one hell of a debut album with Death of a Cheerleader. From the neck braking pace of “Cake” and “Lux” to the easy going feel of “Second That” to the great orchestration of “Forever”, the album never feels pigeonholed to one aesthetic. It’s a cinematic album with Mia’s lyrics painting vivid pictures of not just every emotion under the sun, but also coming to terms with your past and present. While they don’t do much to the lone cover on the album, “Crimson + Clover” feels like it’s wholly theirs now. She has been doing a lot of interviews speaking about how this album helped her get through her past and “Shame Reactions” feels like the culmination of that. “Be Good” is such a beautiful song that comes unexpectedly as the second to last song. It’s the last scene of the movie where the main character gets to walk away into the sunset as the credits begin to roll. The album starts and ends with two very quick instrumental pieces that want to be in a David Lynch movie, and I hope the band get to achieve that status one day. Death of a Cheerleader should wind up on a lot of year end lists and rightfully so. There hasn’t been any other album this year that sounds like it.

Rose City Band – Earth Trip – A perfect summer album to cruise around to at either sunrise or sunset.

Rose City Band just keeps cranking out albums. Last year’s Summerlong made my list last year and if you aren’t on board yet I don’t know what you’re doing. Ripley Johnson has crafted another beautiful one here. Created through last years pandemic, he, like all of us, had to stay home. In the opening song “Silver Roses” he sings “I won’t hurt anymore I’ve come home to stay” and those words just pierce right through you. It’s a slow rolling album, filled with harmonicas, slow beautiful solos, and great pedal-steel guitar playing. Many of the songs are asking the listener to pay attention to the planet and truly give it what it needs so it can thrive again. “In The Rain” wants you to enjoy the water coming down from the sky and not to stay sheltered. “Lonely Space” tells you to go outside and forget your phone. “Dawn Patrol” implores you to wake up early with the new day and see the beauty of nature as the sun rises. I love the Grateful Dead vibes of “World Is Turning”, there’s really no other way to describe that slightly up-tempo country-rock guitar line. “Ramblin’ With The Day” is a perfect three-and-a-half-minute 70’s Laurel Canyon-type rocker that you will be bopping around to whether you were planning on it or not. I know a nine-minute closing track is scary to some listeners, but your ears will be happy once it’s over. You really should be all in on Rose City Band at this point, but if you’re not yet, I hope this album changes that.

Ryley Walker – Course In Fable – He finally made the prog-rock album we all knew was stirring inside .

Breaking from my rule about not writing about an album that was written about a ton by everyone in the industry because Ryley Walker deserves his roses. It feels like Ryley has been around forever and has always done interesting music to perk your ears up and say, “man I need more of that”. Well, here we find him putting his guitar and songwriting skills to prog-rock. “Striking Down Your Big Premiere” feels like it’s from a completely different time period and he built a time machine and brought it to 2021 for us all to have our jaws drop at its beauty. “Rang Dizzy” is less than five minutes, but the amount of storytelling he does in the song makes it feel like an epic quest that you just went on as the last note rings. This is a theme of the songs on this album. Without a label, he could pretty much do what he wanted to with this album and he did. When artists are free to follow their muse without deadlines or someone looking over their shoulder, magic comes out, and that is what we have here. “Pond Scum Ocean” is such a weird track that begins with almost three minutes of what is one of the weirdest jams put to tape in recent memory before Ryley comes in and sings about carousels stinging his corneas. It’s a wild piece of music. The whole album is wild and I can’t wait for whatever is to come next from Ryley and his crew.

Saint Mela – a well for my ego – An EP full of heart and soul.

This NYC-based trio vibes out hard on this EP. “st. paul x parkside” has this high-pitched guitar chord that is plucked under Wolf Weston’s vocals that screams early 00’s rock to me. Halfway through the song, we move from a brighter indie sound into a darker more r+b sound. While this movement isn’t expected, it works and will be stuck in your head after it’s over. The music in “conditions” is raw, which makes the lyrics hit harder than they already do. There is a pain in the whole song that just goes right down to your bones. Both “mantra” and “trifles” both are slow-moving pieces that you can feel was definitely Wolf getting a lot off of her mind. “we gon see” featuring Rah Rah Gabor is the funkiest song on the album with Wolf and Rah Rah going back and forth on lyrics. The last song is “push” and has early 90’s hip hop vibes with the way the music and the background vocals mix together. Wolf’s voice wails during the breakdowns and just pushes everything higher.

Samantha Crain – I Guess We Live Here Now – A stunning EP about the hope and heartache of the past year.

This is a gorgeous four song EP filled with dreamy music, beautiful harmonies, and some great songwriting. “Bloomsday” opens up in hope that maybe each boring day that follows the next isn’t the worst and you can make of it what you want. The use of “this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine” just makes the whole song become a technicolor dream. Those little moments of hope have been so necessary during the past year-plus. “There Is No Mail Today” is lush with strings and a killer bass line and tackles the thought of being forgotten. The moment you realize that the relationship you’re in is over is the subject of “Malachi, Goodbye”. I love her use of horns fluttering in the song, coming into and out of the foreground, dancing between her lyrics. “Two Sitting Ducks”, containing the title of the EP, is a wonderful tale about two people looking around after getting stuck in a town realizing that this is where they are now and that is ok. Much like the last year we don’t always get to plan it all out and sometimes have to look around and realize that this is the current hand we’re being dealt and go with it.

Sasha & the Valentines – So You Think You Found Love? – Psychedelic pop to heal what ails you.

There is no one named Sasha in this band, but that shouldn’t stop you from feeling the love that comes through on this debut album. The name of the band was done in a nod to 60’s groups and the music also takes cues from that era. The music also sees a mix of Abba, Blondie (the peak pop era), Tennis, and Caroline Rose that just gives such warm vibes. “Witches” kicks off with the bright beautiful sounds of an organ and we’re immediately thrusted into psychedelic pop full of enough layers to make your mind explode. The album deals with relationship dynamics of all sorts and Sarah Addi, the principal songwriter, does a great job of moving through various stages of relationships as the album moves forward. “Flower” is after the relationship is over and our narrator is trying their best to prove they are better than the new fling their partner has moved on to. “Cry All the Time” is letting the anger and sadness out after everything ends. The dancing disco vibes of “Don’t You Love Me” should become an anthem once the band is able to tour and be an absolute highlight of their set. The album ends on the upbeat “I See the Light” that is drenched in echoey vocals and jangly guitars that just wrap your ears up nicely as the album fades out. It’s quite the debut and hopefully, they have more already in the works.

Shelley FKA DRAM – Shelley FKA DRAM – A new beginning for an already great artist.

This is a hell of an album with a ton of smooth R&B that shows off Shelley FKA DRAM’s fantastic singing voice. Through the album, Shelley does quick spoken word pieces either introducing or putting codas on songs to give them a more cinematic feel. Some are funny (“Married Woman”), some are for just information (“’93 Acura Vigor”), and others are about being thankful (“Remedies”). Shelley brings along a few collaborators to the album who all add wonderful textures to the songs they help out on. Summer Walker joins in on “All Pride Aside” which kicks the album off showing how different these songs are going to be from Shelley’s past music. “The Lay Down” has H.E.R. and WATT on it with the former’s guitar soaring over the ending as everything builds to a crescendo before slowly fading out. Erykah Badu does what she does best on “93 Acura Vigor” and just brings a whole vibe to the song. Many of the songs ooze with late night vibes of love and lust. It’s a sexy album and there’s no other way to really describe it. We end on “Rich & Famous” which feels like a prophecy Shelley has seen of his future and honestly if that’s the way he goes from here, power to him, this album is a winner and I can’t wait for more.

T. Hardy Morris – The Digital Age of Rome – Laugh a bit as you listen to some solid rock and roll as the world explodes around you.

“Bad Timing, Silver Lining” are the first words on an album that reflects feelings of the past year. With everything falling into ruins, this album raises plenty of questions, but we don’t really get answers, and that’s ok. The past year was so rough on almost everyone on the planet and no one planned for it, so if you were able to get one thing that was good out of it, even if it was just surviving, you have to be happy with it. This is the crux of this album, the world is rough but don’t beat yourself up over it. The title track has Morris singing about “criminals on our thrones” and you can’t help but nod in agreement when you look around the world. When you think of empires falling, it’s always Rome, and I can only imagine how that would have gone if they had the internet. “Shopping Center Sunsets” is a pretty tongue in cheek song about buying things to tide you over even when you can’t afford it. “Down and Out” feels like Morris is calling out not only the “Boomer Generation” but his own generation, wondering if kids will look at him the same way. “First World Problems” again isn’t giving answers but is speaking to the fact that we don’t think about the world as a whole, just our own little bubbles. The album closes with “Just Pretend Everything is Fine” which is exactly what people have been doing for the past few years. As the world literally burns around us, we just have to pretend it’s fine and the upbeat music that Morris puts to the lyrics for this song is really hilarious.

Teke::Teke – Shirushi – The album title says it all as it translates to “signs of great changes to come”.

The debut album from Montreal based Teke::Teke needs to be on your radar immediately. This seven-piece band took the approach of nothing left off the table when putting this album together. The mixture of traditional Japanese music alongside late 60’s psychedelia is wild to hear in real time. The Shinobue, a traditional Japanese Bamboo flute, stands right alongside fuzzed out guitars and mesmerizing vocals and makes the album seem like it’s a transmission for a distant planet. “Yoru Ni”, which translates to “At Night” feels like the evening is closing in around you and there is nothing you can do to stop it. “Dobugawa” could easily find it’s home as the song for an old spy thriller. There is a punk rock aesthetic that also runs through the album on tracks like “Barbara” that just has that gritty quality to it that makes you want to dance in close quarters in basements while this band rocks out in front of you. “Meikyu” is an old-school psychedelic freak-out that the Haight-Ashbury crowd would have loved to tune in and drop out to. The album ends with the orchestra-assisted “Tekagami” that really puts such a gorgeous bow to the end of it. The last lyrics of the album are translated to “One day, the mirrors will shatter into a thousand pieces and turns into waves of sand glowing under the moonlight” and it’s such a jaw-dropping line in a song that will take your breath away.

Wallice – Off the Rails – Smart and witty lyrics paired up with some great pop music.

This 16 minute EP from Wallice is tremendous and feels like a fever dream. Her lyrics deal with the obsessiveness that everyone has for growing up (“23”) and how hard dating can be in today’s society (“Hey Michael”). Wallice does it with a sense of fun that has been missing from pop music. “Punching Bag” is definitely a song I can see becoming an absolute show stopper as live music starts to come back. Wallice’s songs remind me of the early pop days of the ’60s and it’s not just the less than three minutes per song. There’s some great harmonizing (“Off the Rails”) that harkens back to the girl groups of early pop music. The distortion on her vocals in “Dramamine” gives the song the sense of actually being on the drug that she speaks of needing because of the relationship she is dealing with. The synths in “Headache” swirl around and give you the sense of not being in touch with reality. It’s a great effect that ends the EP. Her music videos are also to die for. Wallice is definitely poised for big things in the music industry.

Zoe Wees – Golden Wings – A powerful coming out party for this 19 year old.

The raw talent that Zoe Wees shows on this debut is wild. Her voice soars to such heights on these five songs that you would think she is far older than just 19. My jaw dropped to the floor multiple times listening to these 16 minutes. “Control” is about Zoe’s struggle with benign rolandic epilepsy that can cause sever seizures. The emotion in her voice just stops you dead. “Girls Like Us” is demanding solidarity around the world for women. “Hold Me Like You Used To” is the deep pain of losing someone and missing them from your everyday life. The song has a pulsating rhythm though that refuses to let the song be sad and moves it towards celebrating the memory of that person. “Ghost” deals with letting someone get to close to you and “Overthinking” lets Zoe get rid of the demons haunting her and take control of her life. This is a must-hear this year and I cannot wait to see what she does next. Zoe, her voice, and her writing are hopefully going to be around for years to come.

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