Key Tracks: “Bank Account Anxiety,” “Face Without Eyes”
It’s been a long, long time since I’ve done a review on this site that wasn’t one for a pal or an extension from a different site or anything, but I’ll make some time for one of my absolute favorite bands – Oozing Wound. One of Chicago’s finest metal bands, and one of the country’s most underrated groups, is back with their fifth full-length album. It’s already a high watermark for 2023, though I’ve only listened to a couple of records so far.
One thing that’s obvious pretty immediately on “Cowards” is the change in direction. I had a feeling this was coming even looking at the song lengths, as they’re nearly all in a taut 4-5 minute range. There’s a uniformity there that’s normally been eschewed intentionally on their previous records. And indeed, this record sounds a lot different. Although they’re nominally a noise rock band, it’s always been safe to call Oozing Wound a thrash metal group. Songs like “Vein Ripper” have had the energy and riffs of thrash, just with a muddier production level. Well, “Cowards” is pretty distinctly a noise rock record, and a damn good one. These songs are more patient and varied, with heavier riffs and more medium tempos. Songs like “Total Existence Failure” and “Old Sludge” take more cues from old school groups like TAD than anything else, with pummeling guitars and loud but slower speeds. It’s fun to see the group lean into their other main influence, though they could keep putting out thrash-adjacent records and I’d be pleased. The production on this album – similar to their previous albums – suits the sound well. It’s a crunchy record, fuzzed out and difficult. It feels a lot more serious than their previous records, with their colorful covers and playful melodies. There’s an instrumental track in “Crypto Fash,” and a handful of songs that prove the band doesn’t have to rely on Zack Weil’s unique singing voice. There’s even credited piano and horn parts!
And yet, as much as things change, they also stay the same. The record is not without energy, it’s still distinctly Wound. Even though Oozing Wound sound like a million other bands, there’s no other bands that sound quite like Oozing Wound. And as much as they may sing on serious topics, they’re still tongue-in-cheek. The album’s title is great, and its cover looks like it’s been run through the wash. There’s songs with titles like “Crypto Fash,” “Hypnic Jerk” and “Midlife Crisis Actor.” It’s also fitting that Spotify messed up and labeled the album as being titled just “Oozing Wound,” despite the title being very readable on the cover. It’s still very fun and they’re still very funny, they’ve just adapted an updated sound. The band’s previous best songs were the super pummeling ones like “Surrounded By Fucking Morons,” but on this record, the midtempo opener “Bank Account Anxiety” is the standout. The song feels like “Colossus” by IDLES, in that it sets the record’s tone with a ceaselessly heavy, hypnotic rhythm that denies you the satisfaction of speeding up (well…”Colossus” does, but it still counts).
If you like noise rock, or punk, or thrash metal, then this is a great record by a great band. The band behind classic song titles like “Tween Shitbag” and “Everyone I Hate Should Be Killed” and “Welcome to the Spaceship, Motherfucker” has delivered yet again. I hope this album, which is much more distinctly a noise record, can find this group a proper audience. Exceptionally fun, exceptionally heavy, and exceptionally great.
If you like this, try: “God’s Country” by Chat Pile. Chances are you’ve heard that one if you’re still reading, but just in case – one of the best records of 2022, and similar to “Cowards” in the noise/metal hybrid and tongue-in-cheek yet deadly serious tone.
Welcome to the first ever edition of The _____ Chronicles! In this hopefully ongoing series I’m going to be doing deep dives into the catalogs of artists I like but haven’t explored enough. This is partially a way to jump headfirst into some daunting catalogs I’ve been putting off, but also a way to burn through some smaller ones, too. While the second edition will very much be the former, we’re starting with the latter: Zola Jesus. Imagine if I had titled this post The Jesus Chronicles? How pretentious does that sound!
Zola Jesus is really the moniker of solo singer Nika Danilova, though she’s usually backed by a consistent group. Though a recent artist and someone very much in the current zeitgeist, her music is more indebted to bands like Siouxsie and the Banshees, and The Jesus and Mary Chain. Her music is often inspired more by industrial and goth than anything else, but with the incorporation of lush atmospheres and pop vocals. It’s an interesting combo, something that sounds both progressive and timestamped to 1986.
Zola was on my radar for a bit when I become a devotee to Sacred Bones Records, but it wasn’t until Nika started dropping some harsh truths about the state of indie music on twitter that I started paying attention. I’ve heard her most recent release, 2022’s Arkhon – which brought up the rear in my alphabetical-by-artist Best Albums of 2022 list – but I’ve otherwise not heard any releases. So, I’ll be streaming and reviewing the first five studio albums, in order. These are The Spoils, Stridulum, Conatus, Taigi and Okovi.
I really dug this record. The most immediate thing to note is that there’s some earlier songs attached to the end of it, and it does alter the listening experience. The album’s final tracks follow more conventional pop song structures, but with some very rough lo-fi recording. It’s not really an extension of what came first but an attachment, and it doesn’t super work – but the songs are good, so it didn’t bother me! “The Way” is actually one of the best tracks on the album, I think.
Okay, the actual album – I think this one came out of the gates hot. The opening track “Six Feet (From My Baby)” is the best one on the album and, if we’re judging Spotify plays as gospel, the most popular one. It’s got a classically industrial percussion beat but stops just short of the genre’s standard harshness. Nika’s voice brings in some operatic qualities, which is true for the whole record. “Clay Bodies” is a solid tune, enhanced by her best performance across the album. Due to the intentionally lo-fi production, the lyrics are always obscured by both the beautiful operatic vocals and the grainy fuzziness of the studio. It creates an interesting, paradoxical atmosphere of bedroom pop made for a stadium. It also follows a trend in bands like this, to eschew any qualities that might hotshot them into a big spotlight. Indeed, most of these songs are more vibes than anything, not playing into any sort of verse-chorus-verse structure and opting for dreamy soundscapes.
There’s too much – there’s a few too many of these songs and they do start to bleed together. And, with the inclusion of the very solid but different tracks at the end, the runtime is just a little bloated. But it’s still a very engaging and encompassing album – great stuff!
Favorite track:“Six Feet (From My Baby)”
This is a perfectly logical follow-up to Spoils. It does exactly what it needs to – ups the production and puts more of a focus on the vocals. Spoils used lo-fi production to make a statement, but it wasn’t a sustainable sound, really. The vocals on this record are crisp and clean, and the lyrics are actually intelligible! Nika’s voice is absolutely the standout, hauntingly operatic and yet compellingly melodic. Her voice is simply forceful and commands each track. There is also a focus on individual instruments, from the sparse drums of opener “Night” to the keyboards on closer “Lightsick.”
But, even with these changes, there is still a distinct lack of palpable pop qualities here. These songs are still very dreamy and hypnotic, even if they come closer to being defined as “ballads.” I’m not sure if the general affect works quite as well here, as it feels like too much of a good thing, and unlike Spoils I think this album is aided by individual standout tracks. “Night,” the title track “Stridulum” and “Manifest Destiny” are all among the best Zola songs I’ve heard so far. Naturally, these are also the songs where Nika’s voice is the strongest. I didn’t like this one quite as much as the debut, but it is still very tantalizing and I’m excited to keep plugging away.
Favorite track: “Stridulum”
This one feels pretty similar to Stridulum, so I won’t spend much energy here. It’s quite good! The biggest difference is a reliance on multi-layered vocals, we hear Nika harmonizing with herself on nearly every track. It’s super effective, and mixed with the crispest production yet, we get an album that is incredibly dreamlike. For all I know, this was recorded inside a cave. This also feels like the closest thing to a solo project, as the album relies even heavier on the vocals.
Where Stridulum really was bolstered by some great songs, this one feels like a more comprehensive record. The vibes work better than ever; this is a great album to throw headphones on and disappear into. I think she and the band are really finding their proper groove here, maintaining a consistent aura without falling into a repetitive trap. There’s pop vocals and traditional sounding ballads, all wrapped up in a completely hypnotizing dreamy wash. By this point the albums are pretty consistent, but this is the best one so far.
Favorite track: “Vessel”
Well this is the biggest outlier so far, so it’s fitting that this is the only review I’m writing a few days after listening and not in the immediate aftermath. This one was a frustrating listen, it featured all of Nika’s strengths but in more of a conventional pop direction. It’s a neat left-turn, a bit of a break from the system. You can tell that Nika is doing this as a fun new direction and an experiment to push the limitations of her sound. Her voice lends itself extremely well to pop tracks, as expected. This more than any other ZJ album sounds like the project of a solo star: vocals with a backing band.
All of that said, this really isn’t that pleasant of an album to listen to. A relaxation of the focus on the music makes these songs pretty half-baked and interchangeable. They’re not bad, but they just kind of exist and nothing more. This album feels like the latter half of “one for them, one for me.” I think it was maybe more fun to produce than it is to listen to. Still, it’s a solid record! This album really reinforces the power of Nika’s voice and how it transcends the little niche she’s previously hidden herself in. It’s a decent album, but one that I won’t be revisiting.
Favorite track: “Dangerous Days”
Alright, we’re back on track. I really loved this one. I think this one might actually be my favorite, also taking Arkhon into consideration. Unlike Taiga, there’s no real reinventions happening here, just the best version of the Zola Jesus format we’ve seen yet. Nika’s vocals are particularly operatic, and there seems to be a heavier focus on repeated lyrics. This adds to the already dreamy/shoegaze-y music, which comes in louder than on previous albums. Okovi is the antithesis to Taiga, in that it feels the most like a full-band affair. The two albums likely make for a wonderful back-to-back (unfortunately my listens were separated by a weekend).
I would highly recommend this one to anyone who likes anything in the dream-pop realm, Beach House and beyond. It’s also got some drone elements that chip away at the pop melodies. It’s maybe the most engaging of all the ZJ albums. And as this completes my catalog listen-through, I think I want to call it my favorite.
Favorite track: “Soak”
This was fun! As the first installment I can’t say how often or well I’ll keep doing these, especially since I’ve got some much bigger catalogs planned – but Bowie is up next. I hope someone out there has enjoyed this, and please check out the music of Zola Jesus!
That time of year again! The time of year where the talking heads all list out their own “definitive” Best Of lists and drive up their ad revenue through rage clicks. Normally I love to participate, but this year I’ve decided not to do any sort of rankings and just list a bunch of albums I enjoyed. This is because 1) some of these bands I covered in other publications, and it feels weird to insert them into a ranked list, 2) how am I supposed to compare and contrast the house revival of Beyoncé with the industrial rap of Backxwash, the the disco pop of Charli XCX with the post-hardcore of Chat Pile, the low-key jazz of King Gizzard with the high-stakes prog of King Gizzard, and 3) I’m so tired, man. So these albums are ranked only alphabetically. However, I’ve thrown in some songs for some albums I do find particularly noteworthy. I finished the year having listened to 414 albums released between January 1st and mid-December. Yes, that’s a personal record. So without further adieu, here’s 75ish albums from this year I am simply excited to talk about!
Note: The original version of this list included the album Erebos by death metal group Venom Prison, but right before I edited it, the singer got outed with some transphobic nonsense. We don’t support that here. If you’re looking for good metal, stream their album on Spotify so they don’t get paid.
The 1975 – Being Funny In A Foreign Language
I’ve been pro-1975 for a while, but their biggest fault has always been bloat. Their albums – even at their best – have been overlong and suffering from inconsistent ambitions. This one is shorter, leaner and more scaled-down while still sounding distinctly 1975. It’s a nice surprise that’s well-needed after their previous, overlong ho-hum affair.
Actor|Observer – Songs For the Newly Reclusive
The first local entry on this list also gives me the opportunity to share the best piece of writing I did all year, when I premiered this album’s lead single. The whole album that follows is effortlessly brutal hardcore that shows both an urgency in its lyrics and a patience in the songwriting, a difficult balance to pull off. This is not hardcore for the sake of hardcore, this is a band that has a lot to say, and those messages are delivered successfully and angrily. Consistently one of the most underrated groups, Actor|Observer have done it again.
Alvvays – Blue Rev
The first two Alvvays albums were great little releases of radio-friendly powerpop, so it was a shock for their third to turn up the edge and turn down the song lengths into something that feels a little more punk-inspired. It helps to round out the band’s image and distance themselves from the overall bloat of bands they resemble. Even though it sounds smaller in scale, the album feels bigger than the ones they’ve done before.
Backxwash – His Happiness Shall Come First Even Though We Are Suffering
I’ve been a huge Backxwash fan since the moment I pressed play, so it’s no surprise that I loved her newest offering. The albums follows in the footsteps of her previous releases – finishing off a trilogy – with industrial rap/horrorcore that puts some absolute respect on the genre’s name. She’s backed up by some excellent features with Pupil Slicer and Ghais Guevara (more on him later), though as always her forceful rapping and controlled chaos beats are the focus. There’s simply no one else operating on her level.
Bad Bunny – Un Verano Sin Ti
Nothing to say that hasn’t been said already; Bad Bunny is just on another platform. The man has been releasing music like crazy, all of which manages to be breezy pop for the masses that has tons of depth and personality, and all in a language foreign to half of his American listeners (myself included). What a king.
Beach Bunny – Emotional Creature
Similar to Alvvays, Beach Bunny are one of the best in a bloated genre, and this album sees them breaking out. The album feels fuller and more mature, even though a youthful immaturity was their previous selling point. Beach Bunny are destined for megastardom, and this is another wonderful stepping stone. Pretty funny that we got two straight bunny entries, huh.
Beach House – Once Twice Melody
And right into two straight Beach entries. We gotta diversify these artist names. Anyways, Beach House had really fallen off the radar prior to 2022 – only one album in seven years, after a much more regular release schedule. That was undone with this sprawling 18-song, 84 minute sectioned album. There’s sections of classic shoegaze Beach House as well as parts that see the band dive into even more lush, dreamy territory. It’s certain to be one of their best albums, which is high praise, though anyone looking for bangers should seek elsewhere.
Beyoncé – Renaissance
The Queen was in a tough position after her album Lemonade, a decade-defining, genre-sprawling masterclass destined for the record books. No follow-up was going to feel as important or immediate, so she instead did a lower stakes house revival album. It was a necessary and perfect left turn; far from her best work, but it isn’t meant to be, and what it is still damn near perfect.
Big Thief – Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe in You
Similar to Beach House, this is a behemoth, brass ring-grabbing mission statement of an album; it even came out the same week! Possibly the best indie release of the year, it sees the band take their normally reserved album ideas and stretch them into grander territory. Everything feels expanded and yet distinctly Big Thief – warm, earthy melodies accompanied by Adrienne Lenker’s tender voice and emotionally crippling lyrics. In an era where album bloat plagues every genre, Big Thief delivered an 80-minute album that still leaves the listener begging for more. They elevated themselves to Best Indie Band in 2019, a title that I believe they still hold.
billy woods – Aethiopes and Church
First double-entry! The Armand Hammer member has had a wildly prolific solo career, and both of his 2022 offerings are just great, low-stakes hip-hop albums. While the alphabetical and chronological antecedent was the better of the two albums, both showcase woods as a humble and intelligent master, unafraid to challenge rhythm and tropes.
Birds In Row – Gris Klein
Straight up one of my favorite groups, France’s Birds In Row have delivered another visceral, powerful and understated album of hardcore that establishes them as one of the genre’s most creative forces. Too many hardcore bands sound interchangeable, but Birds have always been sonically challenging, genre-defying and socially conscious, trends that have all kept up on Klein. One of the most criminally underrated groups in all of music, even if they set themselves up to have a limited audience.
Björk – Fossora
There’s a number of entries in this post that feel pointless to write – if you’re reading this on my blog, with the type of stuff I cover, then you’ve already heard Fossora. Björk rarely misses, and hasn’t missed in many years, but even for her this is a triumph. Few artists could think about the concept of mushrooms and produce an album that actually feels like the damp moss of a forest floor, but that’s what Fossora is. The mysteriousness of the forest – both innocent and unforgiving – litters this album in a way that’s pleasant and so entirely original. Quintessential Björk.
Black Dresses – Forget Your Own Face
Hyperpop is maybe the first thing to come around in music that makes me feel like I’m too old to understand, and truthfully I don’t really “get” all of this, but I do love it. This doesn’t so much move the goalposts of what “pop” can be but uproots and incinerates them. The chaotic outbursts of glitchy synth, the pessimistic lyrics and the demon-fueled screams from Ada Rook (one of the best screamers in the game today) all make this a brief album that’s equal parts fun and terrifying. Pretty good for a duo that’s technically broken up!
black midi – Hellfire
Coming into Hellfire I was hit and miss on black midi – literally, I thought their debut was a hit and the sophomore record was a miss. So I had a little trepidation, but this is easily my favorite of the three. This is extremely “me” music. Hellfire is a ton of absolutely chaotic, noisy indie songs that sound like a frustrated band taking it out in studio. I’m sure these songs are written precisely, but they often sound improvised. A little noisier and they could be mistaken for prime era Lightning Bolt. Really loved this one.
Bonny Light Horseman – Rolling Golden Holy
I’m not 100% positive this one would’ve made the list if I hadn’t just seen this band a couple weeks ago, but it’s totally deserving either way. The folk supergroup released their second album in November and it follows their debut exactly. Soft acoustic folk is met with gorgeous harmonized vocals in a collection of songs that you want to just disappear into forever. The group sounds like Fleet Foxes if they had less of an indie bend and didn’t subscribe to the concept of a frontman; the three musicians here all work equally and in tandem with one another. It’s quite possibly the prettiest album I heard all year.
Carly Rae Jepsen – The Loneliest Time
My my, there were a lot of B artists for some reason. Carly is here to dance us out of it with another album of pure pop bangers. Her previous album Dedicated was a moderately solid release, but a drop in the bucket to 2015’s game-changing E*MO*TION. This album feels closer to the latter, a self-contained collection of bangers and ballads that never tries to reinvent the wheel, just makes sure it runs as smoothly as it ever has. Anyone that doesn’t like Carly is either lying or just simply hates everything fun.
Chat Pile – God’s Country
My god, where did this one come from? The best debut album of the year is also maybe the best damn rock album of the year, too. An uncompromising, bold and enjoyable noise rock album that takes itself very seriously even if it closes with a song called “grimace_smoking_weed.jpg.” While most post-hardcore bands try to eschew any metal influences from their music, Chat Pile lean right into it with gnarly vocals, screams and – especially on “Pamela” – riffs. This is a major play by a fearsome young group.
The Chats – Get Fucked
The Australian drunk punk band is rising in popularity and facing the same issue that’s plagued many similar bands prior – soften the sound for a bigger audience, or lean into the niche. Well the album is titled Get Fucked so they sealed their own deal. This is just great, old school punk twisted through ridiculously delightful Aussie accents. Coming in at 13 songs and 28 minutes, with titles like “The Price of Smokes” and “I’ve Been Drunk in Every Pub in Brisbane,” this is a loud and raucous good time.
Danger Mouse & Black Thought – Cheat Codes
Danger Mouse, as both a producer and active musician, has always been one to ignore trends and musical climates. His full-album collaboration with arguably the most underrated rapper in the world is a very fun whirlwind that combines a lot of soul, prog and psychedelic influences that flies right by. It’s very much a throwback album to older hip-hop and something that sounds totally unique in 2022.
Demi Lovato – HOLY FVCK
Following up on the Chats is another album title that makes a statement. I’ve always had a soft spot for Lovato’s music, more so than most, and this turn back to a pop-punk/rock base is a very interesting one for her. There’s a distinct and intentional lack in subtlety, filling the album with confrontational statements that jump between honesty, heartbreak and horniness. It’s a great rebirth after a difficult period for the artist, and an album that I feel got buried too quickly.
Denzel Curry – Melt My Eyez See Your Future
Curry is one of the most interesting and energetic rappers in the world today, which makes it all the more interesting that this album opens with some slower, reflective tunes. As it moves on, we get some of Curry’s more forceful songs, but it’s a surprising left turn by an artist that specializes in messing with the formula. All of Curry’s albums are great, but this is his best since TA13OO.
Diane Coffee – With People
This absolute indie gem from the former Foxygen drummer might end up being the most overlooked album of the year. Seven of the album’s ten tracks haven’t cracked 10,000 plays on Spotify yet, people are really missing out. It’s airy and fun in the way that Foxygen is, without any of the bloated ambition. It feels similar to some of Will Butler’s solo stuff – messy, low-stakes indie music that’s a lot more playful than you might expect. There’s some really fun stuff going on here.
Ethel Cain – Preacher’s Daughter
The very last album I listened to this year that made the list – listened to on 12/30! – is something I didn’t even realize I was sleeping on. This name was not on my radar until Obama of all people put it on his year end list. Cain is like Lana Del Rey filtered through the horror puritanism of Flannery O’Connor. Daughter is a lengthy, bold debut full of Southern gothic dream-pop ballads and old school Baptist existentialism. Every song sounds similar on paper, but there’s elements of everything from gospel to sludge metal across the album, a truly unpredictable concoction. That all of this was devised by a 24 year old is wild; the future is hers.
Florence & The Machine – Dance Fever
When it comes to the unique indie/baroque pop of Flo & co, there’s really nothing wrong with “more of the same.” This excellent album sees the group treading some similar waters, although there is blendings of many different facets; it’s as synthy and danceable as it is chamber pop, which still leads to some unpredictability. We can belabor about rankings, but this might be the most fun album from them.
foxtails – fawn
I went into this totally blind, and given the album’s title and very plains-inspired cover painting, I was expecting some soft indie. So credit me surprised when the screams started; this band is legit. Mixing classic screamo with post-hardcore, indie and even some jazz elements, this is stuff that’s supremely heavy and completely unique. I immediately ran through their other albums; not a bad song among them.
Gang of Youths – Angel in Realtime
The band name might imply some tongue-in-cheek rascalness, but this is a truly serious record written as an ode to the frontman’s father. The alternative band made an early AOTY contender with an impenetrable and difficult record, one that presents a ton of sonic ideas washed over by emotional lyrics. It’s too long – much too long – but it is super rewarding, comprehensive and effortlessly intelligent music.
Ghais Guevara – There Will Be No Super-Slave
One of the best underground releases of 2022 comes from experimental rapper Ghais Guevara, who litters his album with astounding beats, experimental structures and explicitly leftist lyrics. Songs like “This Ski Mask Ain’t For COVID” and “I Personally Wouldn’t Have Released John McCain” don’t just come out of nowhere. It’s witty, earnest, extremely loud and extremely engaging. Also, check out the “Breakfast in America” sample.
Gladie – Don’t Know What You’re In Until You’re Out
My big criticism of the bands that straddle the pop-punk/indie line is that they often play it safe and don’t explore their own energy. Gladie isn’t one of those bands. The band’s sophomore album (I have yet to hear the debut!) sees them masterfully navigate both tender pop songs and raucous punk, like in the fierce opener “Born Yesterday.” It’s simply a stellar record that is comprehensive and – most importantly – simply fun.
Harry Styles – Harry’s House
I still like his debut solo album more, but his third offering is such a delightful statement release. This is fun, humble and low-key pop, an album that was sorely needed in a year where his personal life was thrust into the spotlight (due to a bad film). He’s just great at this stuff!
Interpol – The Other Side of Make Believe
After the initial hot streak Interpol went on to start their career, it became apparent that they did slower ballads better than bangers (all exceptions to “The Rover”). Their last album, Marauder, was all bangers and it’s their only album I dislike. Thankfully they slowed things down for this somber, post-punk affair. They’ll never reclaim their highs again, but I do think this is genuinely one of their best records.
Ithaca – They Fear Us
Although I felt this year wasn’t as strong as most recent years in general, it was a standout for post-hardcore groups. This album blends those influences through traditional metal/hardcore into one of the rawest releases of the year. This is not music for the faint of heart, but it is a thrilling and emotional listen. Got this one via recommendation, I will be checking out their other releases.
Jack White – Fear of the Dawn
When Jack White announced two albums – a blistering blues record and an acoustic folk one – I knew I was going to like the former more. This packs all the punches of standard wild White stuff, from blues melodies to dizzying guitar licks. There’s even a Q-Tip feature, randomly. Some people might be tired of his schtick, but I’ll always take these records.
JID – The Forever Story
Many of the rap records on this list are here because they’re innovative, nostalgic or just different from anything mainstream. But for JID, this is just a good ass rap album. His flow is impeccable across The Forever Story, which helps bolster his convincingly autobiographical lyrics. It’s a soulful album too, and one complete with some guest spots from festival big-prints like Lil Wayne and Yasiin Bey. Top notch stuff!
Jobber – Hell In A Cell
This is a band called Jobber with an EP called Hell In A Cell, of course I’m into this. It’s an extension on the Mountain Goats album Beat The Champ in that it’s centered entirely around pro wrestling (more on them later). But even if you don’t have an appreciation for the art or aren’t familiar with the brilliance of Mankind, you can still appreciate the tunes. These are four energetic indie tunes with deceptively great vocals in a wonderfully fun debut. I’m not sure if the wrestling gimmick can stay fresh over time, but I’m positive the band can.
Julia, Julia – Derealization
The debut album from the lead singer of long-running punk band The Coathangers is anything but. The album tosses away all of the politically-charged punk energy in favor of soft folk. Most of these tracks are nothing but acoustic guitar and dreamy vocals from Julia. Hell it’s often barely audible! These songs mimic a soft spring day, a pleasant morning as the sun rises. This is probably the softest record on this list.
Kal Marks – My Name Is Hell
This is one of a handful of local entries on my list, but this list would be incomplete without it. Hell is simply one of the best rock albums of the year, filled with post-hardcore tracks that are both patient and angry, heavy and melodic. The band really lays into the same space occupied by IDLES on this one, and for good reason, as they pull the sound off completely. It’s urgent and bitter, but without sacrificing some tongue-in-cheek funk as well. Absolutely hard-hitting stuff and this album should serve as a firm rebuttal to any inane person saying “rock is dead.”
Kim Petras – Slut Pop
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard – Omnium Gatherum and Changes
Another double entry, although in Gizz terms that’s a poor year – this is just two of the five albums they released this year (six if you count a remix album)! I enjoyed all five, though none were among the highs in their still-young, dummy prolific 23 album career so far. And the two albums selected could not be more different; Gatherum is their most expansive album yet, clocking in at 80 minutes and filled with heady concepts and challenging prog elements (sometimes). Changes meanwhile is a fun, lowkey album of breezy, jazzy pop that acts as a follow-up to their delightful Sketches of Brunswick East. Gizz celebrated their second five-album year, and while it wasn’t nearly as unmissable as 2017, there was still a lot to love.
L. S. Dunes – Past Lives
I am always a little weary of supergroups, especially emo supergroups – they often produce some ho-hum music that is a fun change of pace for the performers, but not necessarily enjoyable for the listener. But L. S. Dunes, comprised of members of My Chemical Romance, Thursday, Coheed and Cambria, and Saosin, gave us a mission statement debut album. It sounds like all of their respective bands distilled, combined, and refined, into something that is both familiar and progressive. The album hits a wide range from personal to raucous, and it’s a high recommendation if you like all – or any – of the bands that contributed members.
Leikeli47 – Shape Up
One of the best breakthroughs of the year was that of New York rapper Leikeli47, whose album Shape Up is filled top-to-bottom with short, loud bangers that all flow together in constant whiplash. You’ve probably heard the album’s first track “Chitty Bang” in a (car?) commercial, but it’s such a great track and indicative of the whole rest of the album. Though she performs behind a mask, she’s destined to breakthrough much further than she already has.
Little Simz – No Thank You
My favorite album from 2021 came from British rapper Little Simz, who pushed herself out of her comfort zone with an uncharacteristically bombastic, overstuffed mission statement album. But the spotlight wasn’t kind, and her follow-up is a much more cynical release aimed at the music industry and at the very fans that propped her up. It’s tough and fair, and an extremely deep record that does not sacrifice energy or melody for its goal. It was also released mid-December, probably to avoid all of the gun-jumping publications that publish their best of lists a month early. We wait til New Year’s Eve, here.
Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard – The Harvest
I wrote in my songs post about the title track from this album and how it advances doom metal beyond its shriveling template. Well, the album follows it, an absolute sonic pummeling of riffs, synths, and dreamy moments. It feels like a record that is not supposed to take place on Earth, something from a space wasteland. It is, simply, really cool music. Plus ten points for having my favorite band name.
The Mars Volta – The Mars Volta
I don’t think anyone saw a full Mars Volta reunion & album coming, especially after a full At the Drive-In reunion and album. And if anyone did, they surely did not predict that the band would entirely leave their prog-rock comfort roots in favor of shorter, blunter pop songs with Latin flare. Naturally, the group pulled it off, a totally enjoyable clean slate of a record. The lyrics are also less cryptic and often deal with singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s wife’s battle with the Church of Scientology – a heartbreaking and disgusting story, should you choose to look into it.
Meat Wave – Malign Hex
I’m a sucker for any kind of fuzzed-out garage punk, from The Trashmen to Ty Segall, and this album more than scratches that itch for me. This band does one thing and they do it remarkably well, just a full sonic blast of pedal-heavy guitar and drums. The lyrics range from tongue-in-cheek to political to honest, though the band’s punk energy is what the listener is more directed towards, anyways.
MJ Lenderman – Boat Songs
Lenderman’s name has been on my radar for a while but I had never listened until this album, as I was expecting more of a tepid, sad boy indie schtick a la FJM. To my surprise, it was an album of fun, humorous and fuzzed-out indie that sounded closer to the days of Pavement than anything else. It feels unserious and off-the-cuff, in all the best ways.
The Mountain Goats – Bleed Out
The Goats are never bad, but in their current prolific period, they’ve released some albums that don’t stand against their best. Bleed Out does. Like some other recent Goats albums, this is one is hyper-focused on a concept John Darnielle finds interesting; this time around we get songs about action films. This is also the loudest Goats album – the first to center around electric guitar and rock-driven songs, courtesy of production from Alicia Bognanno, from one of my favorite groups Bully. It’s one of my favorites of the year, and I think it’s a contender for top 5 Goats albums; impressive when you remember it’s their 21st (!!) studio album.
Nerina Pallot – I Don’t Know What I’m Doing
One of the most talented and underrated songwriters in all of music delivered again on her seventh studio album, a work filled with homely, lush and self-reflective ballads. She’s a talented musician, but her strength has always been her beautiful voice and her brutally honest lyrics. Her music has remained popular in the UK but she’s never been even a blip here in the States, I yearn for that to change.
Nikki Lane – Denim & Diamonds
One of the joys of maturity is realizing how stupid I used to sound when I would say something dismissive like “I don’t like country music.” While it’s true that the country-pop that dominated the charts when I was a teen still doesn’t appeal to me, I’ve come to appreciate outlaw country. This is the best country release I heard all year, a collection of low-stakes, unassuming country tunes that are simply fun as hell. These songs are personal, but they’re bops. The album is earworms galore. It’s an album that may not leave a huge impression on first listen, but one that draws you back multiple times. Really fun stuff and a nice antidote to many of the other entries on my list.
Oceanator – Nothing’s Ever Fine
This one was a nice surprise! I checked this one out as sole Oceanator member Elise Okusami was on tour with Jeff Rosenstock, an automatic win in my book. It’s a ripping, fun and earnest indie debut with a bit of edge on some tracks. There’s still room for some folksy elements too. It sounds well-worn and patient, all the more impressive for a debut!
Orville Peck – Bronco
I think it’s no secret that I’m a devoted Peck-head, his debut album Pony rapidly became one of my all-time favorites. I was a little concerned after his follow-up EP was frustratingly saccharine, but the proper sophomore album picks up exactly where Pony left off: alt-country bangers and ballads, all sung from behind a mask, from a gravelly voice with the gravitas of an old West gunslinger. But also, it’s queer. If I really had to choose – and the point of this list is that I don’t – this might be my favorite album of the year.
Otoboke Beaver – Super Champon
I knew in my heart that a band like Otoboke Beaver existed, such a delight to finally find them. The group mixes Japanese pop and noise influences into a blend of punk that’s both absolutely ripping and completely fun. It’s a balance of J-pop and Melt Banana, with bouncy, gang vocals and lyrics inspired by both feminism and comedy, all delivered in a micro package. With song titles like “Dirty Old Fart Is Waiting For My Reaction” and only two songs over two minutes, this is an absolute riotous, unique blast.
Perennial – In the Midnight Hour
I had the immense pleasure of interviewing 2/3rds of this band and hosting the album premiere, so I am a little biased here, but 11 months later and this remains in my top 5 releases for the year. The band, inspired heavily by noise-punk groups like Be Your Own Pet, mesh punk, post-hardcore and experimental elements into something that is as chaotic as it is fun. This album is an unabashed good time, an apocalypse party, full of spooky influences. My only complaint is that it’s over too soon; 10 of the 12 tracks don’t hit the two minute mark!
Perfume Genius – Ugly Genius
Perfume Genius is always an automatic shoo-in for any best of lists, and this year’s offering is no different. After his surprisingly guitar-driven album Set My Heart On Fire Immediately, he tones things way down for a sparse, dreamy production. It’s as brilliant and heartbreaking as anything he’s done before, and by this point I think he’s incapable of producing something that isn’t like this.
Petrol Girls – Baby
This album is a pure refusal of complacency. Loud, brash, dissonant and angry, this is what hardcore punk is really about. The British group funnels explicitly feminist lyrics and harsh vocals through pumping drums and power chords. Not every track kicks into the highest gear, but every one does crack with earnest fury and political anxiety that resonates across the pond. Punk can never, and will never die.
Porridge Radio – Waterslide, Diving Board, Ladder to the Sky
I never know quite what to make of Porridge Radio. On paper, you can call them an indie band, but they rope in many outside influences from post-punk to pop. It’s often loud, and it’s horribly depressing. Their unique sound is on full display here, through melancholic ballads and rhythmic ennui. It’s a top-heavy album, but the good is very good. Not for someone with a cheery disposition.
Pretty Sick – Makes Me Sick Makes Me Smile
It’s always refreshing to me, a total grunge head, to hear any band that hearkens back to the cursed early 90’s. Pretty Sick sounds like one step forward from bands like Hole, Lunachicks and L7, with a messy, angry and riot grrrl-adjacent sound. Pretty Sick doesn’t always push up the volume here, but when they do, their curated sloppiness could mark a dead ringer for a band thirty years their prior. What I’m saying is, this is extremely me music.
PUP – The Unraveling of PUPTHEBAND
Another contender for my favorite album of the whole damn year comes from Canada’s pop-punk-kinda group PUP, who stuck a necessary landing. Each album of theirs has seen increased visibility and fans, as well as just being better than the one prior. So for their fourth album to be a meta concept album about whether they should sell out and go big or make a weird concept punk album, and how it tears the band apart, is bold, brilliant and damn near perfect. It’s fierce and rough, tongue-in-cheek while also being brutally critical of the music industry. It warrants repeated listens, especially to catch little narrative details.
Saba – Few Good Things
One of the most flawless rap albums of the year comes from Saba, who spends each track on his album wearing his heart on his sleeve and masking it at the same time. These lyrics are brutally honest and deep in a way rap lyrics often aren’t (and don’t have to be!). And yet, the music is soft and dense, mimicking the flowers on the album’s cover. There’s an affirming warmness to this record that separates it from the year’s other rap records, even the ones on this list. It’s a shame this one has yet to pull in a wider audience.
SAULT – Today & Tomorrow
I’ve been preaching the gospel of SAULT to anyone who will listen for a couple years now, so imagine my childish grin when the anonymous R&B group released not one but six albums this year. They range from their standard R&B, to borderline gospel and even an atmospheric ambient album. The best was this one, which sees them take their standard crisply produced R&B and up the ante with funk, disco and even some punk elements. This one was a party album, which perfectly soundtracked me wrapped Christmas presents. Long Live SAULT.
Slipknot – The End, So Far
Well, it finally happened – Slipknot made their critical darling record. Their sound, and more importantly their misanthropic angst, was never going to keep up through all the years. This aptly-titled album could serve as a turning point, as it does feature some loud, abrasive metal tracks but a softer side as well. It doesn’t always work – quiet opener “Adderall” is ironically interminable – but the signs point to a changing band, one ready to experiment and embrace the adulthood that washes away all that juvenile anger. It should’ve happened a few albums ago, but hey the formula still worked.
The Smile – A Light For Attracting Attention
Yeah, yeah, Radiohead is my desert island band so naturally I loved this offshoot project. It allows Thom & Jonny et al to let loose and have fun, while also making some songs that would be minimalistic even by Radiohead standards. It’s tough not to compare it to Radiohead albums – it doesn’t stand up to most – but that’s a high grading curve. It’s a great debut and a record that has deserved more of my time this year.
Soul Glo – Diaspora Problems
Credit to any band who can find a way to innovate within a scorned genre. Soul Glo are, by all descriptions, a rap-rock group, but one that play with full intensity and unpredictably. It’s part Death Grips, part 80’s experimentation, and no parts 00’s chuggy riffs and cringey lyrics. This is direct, honest and political stuff and it’s one of the most exciting records of 2022. It has no trouble getting abrasive and confrontational – it is supposed to be a shocking genre, after all.
Spoon – Lucifer on the Sofa
One of the very first albums I heard in 2022 was a welcoming breath of, well, stale air. Spoon’s tenth album sees the band reverting back to the fundamental indie music of their mid-00’s heyday. It’s a welcome joy, as the band proves they can still write some indie bangers, and it’s their best album in years. Focused, pleasant and timeless, this is a high notch in their catalog. Spoon is back, baby.
Sudan Archives – Natural Brown Prom Queen
The first Sudan Archives album was a patient and well-rounded R&B record that seemed to promise better things. Well, her sophomore album is the better thing. One of the best albums of the year sees the singer/violinist assume a first-person role in a concept album taking place in her Cincinnati hometown. It’s an overstuffed, comprehensive and funky release that never overstays its welcome and never teeters on self-indulgence when it could easily do both. It’s earnest and it’s refreshingly original. Truly remarkable piece of work.
Sylvan Esso – No Rules Sandy
This is easily the most ambitious album from the vibes-heavy indie band, a band who approach their albums with a “try anything” attitude. Although it rests at 16 tracks, it’s really made up of 5 or so sections with interludes, split into more bite-sized songs. It creates more of a nightclub DJ feel than their previous, minimalistic dance tracks. It’s still the same fun, warm and light-hearted music as always, though.
They Are Gutting A Body Of Water – s
This one was a wrench thrown into this list – I listened to it after 50+ of the entries in this post had already been written! I’d heard multiple people sing their praises but I jumped in totally blind. It’s shoegaze-based music, but with elements of trap, DNB and chiptune – really a hodgepodge of “off the beaten path” genres tossed into a blender. The result is something totally unique and nearly indescribable – all rules tossed out the window. I really dig this.
Titus Andronicus – The Will to Live
I wrote extensively about this album when I covered their live show, but what I’ll say here is that this is the first time Patty Stix et co. have successfully wrangled their ambitious side with their complying side; it’s really the first time they’ve even tried. This is a concept album, albeit a loose one, but not a hyper-inflated overlong grand affair like their other two concept albums (their best and worst releases, respectively). Instead, it’s a controlled record, one of a band recognizing their own heights but still reaching them. Seeing some of these tracks live helped me to contextualize how this is not a punk record but a rock and roll one, and even if this album was birthed from grief, they’re settling into adulthood surprisingly nicely.
Van Buren Records – DSM
Another local release that ranks among my very favorites from this year comes from Brockton MA’s rap collective. The album is bold and boisterous, with a cascade of different vocalists that allows each song and hell, each verse to sound fresh and fun. This album stays well within the realm of comfortability, and when the group is as good as they are, there’s no reason not to. It’s a blast, turn it up.
Vince Staples – Ramona Park Broke My Heart
Ramona Park acts as a follow-up to 2021’s weirdly disappointing self-titled release, and thankfully it reclaims the magic of older days. And yet, this doesn’t sound like Vince. Gone are the abrasive beats, experimental rhythms and worrying lyrics, replaced with beats and melodies that are crisp, fluid and conventional. Vince is still Vince though, and these tunes are grippingly reflective and earnest. This is as good as anything Staples has ever done. He barely misses.
Wet Leg – Wet Leg
I was absolutely delighted that the new duo Wet Leg was able to capitalize on their surprise debut hit “Chaise Longue” with a great first album. It did exactly what it needed to – prove the group wasn’t a one-trick pony, with a collection of songs that don’t exactly sound similar but feel similar. It’s infectious and hysterical, with tons of pop hooks and plenty of curveballs. The band sounds wise beyond their years, and yet songs like “Piece of Shit” and “Ur Mom” show off their playful immaturity. If by any chance you’re still reading this, then you’ve probably already heard this record, but what was I gonna do, not include it?
Weyes Blood – And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow
I’ll be honest and say that I didn’t like Titanic Rising as much as most, so I approached this one with caution. It floored me. This album is filled with stunningly beautiful chamber pop that feels warm despite the cold, cynical lyrics. It really is unpleasant stuff but presented in a more welcoming fashion. After some disappointments from the likes of Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen, we needed a late-year album of breathtaking ballads like this.
Wilco – Cruel Country
In a way, this is Wilco coming full circle. They toyed early on with country influences before mostly abandoning them for an indie sound. And now, twelve albums in, they’ve embraced it entirely. After a few albums of comfortable complacency, Wilco gifted us with a double album of moody country that welcomes the sound Wilco pushed off twenty years ago. It’s maybe too long and a bit unnecessary, but it stands as a fun and welcome outlier in the catalog – their best albums usually are.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Cool It Down
What a relief this album was. The band’s quest for a total reinvention with each album petered out after 2013’s unlistenable record Mosquito. After nearly a decade of radio silence, they’ve done another full 180. Cool It Down, another in a series of aptly-named records on this list, comes close to ambient territory, with its atmospheric rhythms and airborne feel. It’s clearly a new territory for all members, and if the album had run beyond it’s short runtime it could’ve easily fallen repetitive, but the band keeps it tight. Fans looking for bruisers like “Man” are going to be severely disappointed, but this is a fascinating rebirth.
Zeal & Ardor – Zeal & Ardor
My favorite type of metal is usually “whatever would make the purists mad” and I figure this counts. Black metal, as much as I love it, has a storied history intertwined with full-on Nazism, so it is refreshing to hear a black metal artist who is, well, black. The album combines traditional black metal sounds with African influences, jazz, even a damn stomp-clap. It is sonically and lyrically subversive, a meting pot of influences determined to keep you guessing, especially in a genre where repetition is usually the biggest fault. I recommend this to anyone who even remotely likes metal.
Zola Jesus – Arkhon
Zola’s music expertly walks a line between conventional pop/indie and synthy goth throwback to the 80’s post-punk scene. Arkhon is no exception, as songs bounce to and from these competing influences to create a landscape that is hypnotically catchy and yet grim and moody. It’s often very fun and unpredictable, as some songs search for that catchy rhythm and others eschew it completely. This one flew well under the radar, and I wish it hadn’t.
Just for fun and self-indulgence, here’s some other albums I nearly included in this list:
Charli XCX – Crash (pop/hyperpop), Fontaines D.C. – Skinty Fia (indie/post-punk/Ireland), Froglord – Army of Frogs (stoner metal band that sings about frogs), Lizzo – Special (pop/R&B/it’s Lizzo), Sasami – Squeeze (indie/noise rock), Thee Oh Sees – A Foul Form (80’s thrash metal/hardcore throwback)
Well we’ve hit the end of the year, the time where I spend hours writing about the music I loved for 1-12 readers! As with most years, I focused more on albums than individual songs, so a grand albums post will be forthcoming. But there were more than a few songs I loved at first sight listen, and unlike my albums post, I’ve decided to try and feebly do a ranking of them. I did not put much effort into the actual list and have absolutely forgotten something necessary, but I did work on the rankings. So here’s 30 songs I truly loved:
#30. Archive – “Mr. Daisy”
I came into this band by chance from a Facebook group talking about a song of theirs from 2009, only to discover that they’re still going strong and remain very popular in Europe. The band doesn’t contain themselves within genre, venturing anywhere between trip-hop and nu-metal. They released 2 albums this year, and a standout song is this track, a post-rock inspired alt tune that’s simple, fun and nostalgic. I’m excited to dive deep into this band’s catalog next year.
#29. Robert Stillman – “Cherry Ocean”
This is likely the most divisive and maybe the most obscure song on this list, as something that probably won’t appeal much to my core audience (those 4 people). Stillman’s soft, somber, 8+ minute jazz track sets the tone for the following album, though it’s the only song on it with lyrics. The song is sparse and drone-adjacent, but the scraps of melody are haunting and intriguing. Even though it’s a repetitive minimalist song, I find myself coming back to it repeatedly. It’s a warm and forgiving place to be.
#28. Meat Wave – “Honest Living”
This is my kind of thing – two-minute sucker punch of fuzz guitar and wicked vocals. I’m a sucker for even the worst garage rock, it’s my go-to and my comfort music, and Meat Wave’s recent album more than satisfies that crave within me. “Living” is a punk bruiser with depressingly satirical lyrics about the grind of the workforce. Throw in some good vocal rhythms to boot and you’ve got a memorable little garage punk tune.
#27. Gladie – “Born Yesterday”
A lot of indie-punk bands like to play it safe and merely threaten to go full throttle. Gladie aren’t that band, and they kick off their recent release with a amp-busting banger that makes a statement. I wasn’t aware of this band just a few weeks ago, and now I’m excited to see where they go from here. I’ve also just seen them live and can confirm that this track kills in a concert setting.
#26. Björk & serpentwithfeet – “Fungal City”
Leave it to Björk to make a “mushroom” album, a delightful and occasionally suspicious soundscape that makes it sound like you are lying on the forest floor. The album’s highlight and most on-point track is “Fungal City,” which barely hangs on to any rhythms to create a damp, foresty environment. It starts soft, gets heavy, and stays weird. I don’t know how you even approach crafting a song like this, but it is yet another Björk classic.
#25. The Smile – “You Will Never Work in Television Again”
I’m not really interested in debating whether Radiohead is done or what this offshoot means for their legacy – it’s a different project, no more no less. While the album mostly just sounds like Radiohead, this song has some rough energy that hasn’t been in the band’s music for many years. Very funny that they’ve played this on late night shows, hopefully they’ll play on Corden soon.
#24. The Beths – “Expert in a Dying Field”
If I were to somehow manage to actually list out my 10 or so favorite songs, the Beths would be the only repeat artist on that list. Count this one among the handful of their songs that I really love. Lush and heartbreaking lyrics and vocal melodies all contain themselves within a simple indie/punk song. This group always seems to find interesting ways to sing about despair and ennui, and this one is no different. Add in some of Elizabeth Stokes’s characteristically intriguing vocal rhythms and you’ve got another Beths banger.
#23. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard – “The Harvest”
I treat doom metal like a sandwich – if it’s plain then fine, I’ll take it, but I probably won’t really enjoy it. Doom metal to me has to do something to tinker with the formula, and this song does just that. The Best Band Name in the World take a classic doom metal song structure and add synths and dreamy vocals into something fuller. It’s heavy and brutal, while still feeling fun and atmospheric. The band has always done stuff like this well, but this song and album is a high watermark for them.
#22. Van Buren Records – “FOUL”
One of my favorite rap records of the year came from a local group, Van Buren Records. The large collective makes fun and urgent music with a cascade of voices. The group is at their best when they’re moving quickly, as they do here. No voice or idea overstays its welcome, especially with key features. This is such fun stuff.
#21. Slipknot – “The Chapeltown Rag”
Slipknot’s new album was a divisive one – there was a lot of really stupid discourse around it including the phrase “Slipknot’s Radiohead album.” I loved it for the way it wraps together a more mature, balanced sound with some of their old angry bangers. Well this is the latter, just an old-fashioned Slipknot ear-gouger. Dopey lyrics about violence, manic drums (RIP Joey) and unexpectedly good vocals, this is classic Slipknot. It’s great that they’re finally moving past this kind of stuff, but it’s wild they can still do it so well, too.
#20. Billy Nomates – “spite”
“Don’t you act like I ain’t the fuckin’ man” rips Tor Maries across the chorus of this indie banger. I’m very unfamiliar with her work – I’ve heard a few songs and keep forgetting to check out more. But, this one recently grabbed my attention on the radio. It’s bold and brash while staying well within an indie song, a contained anger that’s delightful as it is genuine. It feels like a victory lap set to music, a ceiling-puncher and a song that probably kills live. I’m on board, now.
#19. 8 Kalacas – “Frontera”
I’m aware the phrase “ska metal” sounds about as off-putting as fruitcake but this song is wild. I first wrote about it in my “Songs You May Have Missed” midyear post and I’m going after it again. This song has horns and riffs and it’s an absolute blast to listen to. A sonic assault that lies more in metal than ska, this really isn’t like anything I’ve heard before. Part of that also lies in the lyrics – silly music is mixed with a dead serious story about a Mexican immigrant realizing the American Dream is a lie and sadly moving back home. The band has Latin roots that add an authenticity to the music that is often missing in wretched, ironic white guy ska. I urge folks to give this one a chance.
#18. Big Thief – “Simulation Swarm”
Big Thief make so many songs that are so heartbreakingly gorgeous that it doesn’t feel fair to other bands. “Simulation Swarm” isn’t nearly as good as 2019’s “Not” or 2020’s “anything” (from singer Adrienne Lenker solo), and yet it still makes the list. The music is calm and patient, featuring the effortless, minimalistic melancholy that the band is known for, and it’s complemented by Lenker’s soft, earworm vocal rhythm. As always, her unique voice elevates this into classic territory. Big Thief forever.
#17. My Chemical Romance – “The Foundations of Decay”
It’s so amazing to me that this exists at all. MCR’s first new release in nearly a decade, and it follows their path of switching up their sound with each album. I don’t know if a proper album is to follow – maybe they don’t, either – but I’d be intrigued if it does. This is slower and denser than you’d expect from MCR, more grown-up now than before. As per usual, the song rests on Gerard Way’s deceitfully strong vocals, but the whole band sounds great. This isn’t as flashy as the group used to be, and therefore the song is a grower – I wasn’t impressed on first listen, but after getting to see it done live (twice!) it’s won me over.
#16. Soul Glo – “Gold Chain Punk (whogonbeatmyass?)”
I didn’t plan for this to be so close to 8 Kalacas but it’s only fitting. Soul Glo presents an equally scorned genre – rap-rock – in a way that’s genuine and refreshing. The opening track to their downright remarkable album Diaspora Problems is a manic, full-octane track that sounds dangerous. Inspired as much by hardcore punk and glitch as they are traditional rap and rock, this is “rap-rock” in the same sense that Death Grips is, not Machine Gun Kelly.
#15. Chat Pile – “Why”
Why do people have to live outside? is the simple question and refrain posited by post-hardcore upstarts Chat Pile. The centerpiece of a Top 5 of 2022 album is also one of the most bluntly political songs of the year (or ever, really). It’s a shakedown of America’s quiet housing crisis sung with a genuine, guttural anger. It feels like everyone in the country is boiling over with anger over their beliefs of choice, and that’s palpable on this barely-contained song. Anyone with an ounce of empathy can relate here, even if it’s abrasive on the ears.
#14. The Mountain Goats – “Wage Wars Get Rich Die Handsome”
It only took 21 studio albums for Mountain Goats to do their first true rock song. An album centered around low-budget action movies needed an energetic boost, so Darnielle et al up the energy for really, the first time in their storied career. Admittedly there are better songs across the unexpectedly great album, but this is my list dammit so I’m picking this one. Although the Goats have carved out their own niche in alternative music, I’d be curious to hear more of this side, too!
#13. Paramore – “The News”
I nearly disqualified this one for recency bias, it was released only a few days before I started this post. But it’s so damn good. Save for a pop-punk heavy debut recorded when they were all around 15, Paramore hasn’t released a bad song, and I’m delighted this stretch is continuing after a multi-year hiatus. The song abandons their more recent new-wave stuff for a return to fiery pop-rock, with more bite than they’ve ever had. There’s a fierceness that cuts through the music here, but also the melody is an instant earworm. I’ve only heard this song twice and it’s already so high.
#12. Fontaines D.C. – “Jackie Down the Line”
Imagine my frustration in 2019 when I first heard this group, a severely Irish post-punk group, only to be sufficiently bored by their album. I wanted to like it and decided to dive into the follow-up with an open mind and, thankfully, liked it much more. This is definitely the song I “sang” the most this year (as it’s not sung but spoken), because it allowed me to practice a ridiculous Irish accent. But it’s a great tune that’s simultaneously despondent and lively. There’s a lot of talk-sing post-punk bands coming out of the UK area (alongside IDLES, Black Country New Road and Dry Cleaning) and I’ve got varying opinions on it; this band has thankfully fallen in my good favor.
#11. MJ Lenderman – “Tastes Just Like It Costs”
Lenderman is an artist I ignored for a while because I thought he was the same brand of tired, acoustic stuff that Father John Misty occupies. My face was red when I finally spun an album, the great Boat Songs. This was my favorite song, a lively and fuzzy guitar track with a touch of humor but a melancholic vocal melody. This song, like much of the album, owes a debt of gratitude to the early alt groups like Meat Puppets and Dinosaur Jr. – a well I will never run dry. This is another catalog I will be diving into soon.
#10. black midi – “Sugar/Tzu”
I loved black midi’s debut only to be frustrated by the sophomore album. Their third righted the course and gave me what I think is their best song yet. “Sugar/Tzu” is one of the most raucous songs I’ve heard all year, manic talk-sung vocals mixing with a steady, revolving central rhythm and frequent…interruptions? The music video follows a boxing match, which is very fitting, as the resembles what it feels like to get beat up. The song sounds borderline improvised, closer to prime era Lightning Bolt than any of their more radio-friendly peers. I cannot overstress how wild this song is.
#9. L.S. Dunes – “Permanent Rebellion”
In most cases, I will side with any artist’s louder, more energetic tunes. This debut track from emo supergroup L.S. Dunes is no exception. The expectation-obliterating album’s penultimate song is also the loudest and most abrasive of the bunch, a throwback to all of the respective members’ heydays. The verses here are standard rock stuff, but the choruses hold a thrilling punch that separate Dunes from most supergroups; this isn’t a fun side project, this is a group with a statement to make. The emo revival will never die, baby.
#8. Weyes Blood – “It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody”
Natalie Mering is two albums into a trilogy that’s essentially about going through the rough of it. It’s sad enough on principle, and this album follows in the footsteps of 2019’s Titanic Rising by opening with the best song of the bunch. “Not Just Me” is a gorgeous chamber pop song, a heavenly ballad set over little more than vocals, harp and drums. It’s a dreamy, absorbing song with nightmarish lyrics about human suffering and ignorance. The album that follows is more of the same – and it’s one of the best of the year. But this one in particular is just a completely devastating yet rewarding listen.
#7. Weird Nightmare – “Searching For You”
When I heard that METZ frontman Alex Edkins was releasing a solo record, I had a feeling I knew what it would sound like – more melodic and alternative-based than his primary band, while retaining much of the energy. I was right, this song sounds like the crushing assault of (loudest band I’ve ever seen live) METZ filtered through the Minutemen. It’s loud and aggressive but it’s got a great rhythm and a more subdued approach. Like a few other songs on this list, it owes some to 90’s guitar alternative, revamped for today.
#6. Spoon – “Wild”
It’s very rare that a band can maintain a similar sound for decades and keep it fresh; they’ll either start to sound repetitive (AC/DC) or settle into a relaxed vibe (Wilco). But Spoon isn’t most bands, and “Wild” sounds like the same Spoon from 2005. They’re revamped and reinvigorated and they’re all the better for it. Britt Daniel’s odd singing voice remains the band’s best strength, as this would be a very standard song without it, but the Neil Young-like vocals elevate this to a Certified Spoon Classic.
#5. Leikeli47 – “Chitty Bang”
This song is just about as fun as music can get. The masked rapper kicks off her consistently excellent third album with this immaculately-produced bop. I don’t understand how this song isn’t topping the charts, I challenge anyone to spin it and sit still. A hip-hop song with pop structure and production, this song should really appeal to just about everyone. Although the artist has chosen to remain private, I hope 2023 sees her absolutely blow up.
#4. Gogol Bordello – “Fire On Ice Floe”
This one is circumstantial – after Peter Murphy checked into rehab and Bauhaus canceled their reunion tour, Riot Fest had to scramble to book a medium-big, evening act. Eugene Hutz and gang filled in, and delivered the best festival set I’ve ever seen (and went 10 minutes over, much to the chagrin of Glenn Danzig). I didn’t know this song when they played it, as it had only been released days prior, but they jammed on the chorus for an extended period. The easy, melodic refrain of “dance, dance, dance into the fire” had the massive audience all singing and dancing along. Although the band was there to promote defense for Ukraine, they still turned the set into an absolute party. This may or may not be a great song, but my vision will always be blinded by how I was first introduced to it.
#3. Perennial – “Tooth Plus Claw”
Again I am blinded, because my first interaction with this band’s music was when I had a chance to interview them (they’re really fun people to chat with, folks). This song doesn’t eclipse 90 seconds, just a dance-punk whirlwind that’s extremely high energy and just as fun. It’s loud and brash, but – like the rest of their album – is done entirely as a party. This is a throwback to The Hives and Be Your Own Pet, bands with short songs and contained chaos, that always still rely on melody above all. Love this so much.
#2. Arlo Parks – “Softly”
Arlo Parks just missed out on both my favorite song and album lists last year, and her sole release in 2022 is better than everything she delivered in 2021. This is one of those songs that will have you crying in seconds even though it’s a wholesome love song. The vocal melody perfectly matches the pure lyrics, a quiet message to a (potential?) lover. Her voice dominates over the music, seemingly mixed at a higher volume than a normal song would be. I’m not one for listening to songs on repeat but I could easily play this one for an hour.
#1. Orville Peck – “Daytona Sand”
Big surprise, the guy who goes by Orville Shrek on twitter loves the music of Orville Peck. There’s something about the mysterious, masked, Canadian, queer outlaw country/alternative singer that just works for me. The opening track to his stellar sophomore album Bronco picks up where Pony left off; the forlorn western lyrics, the driving snare drum and Peck’s deliciously commanding bass voice all propel this to the #1 spot. It’s catchy, fun and yet melancholic, and it’s probably my favorite song of the year.
For fun, here’s some songs that didn’t make the cut:
Beyoncé – “Break My Soul” (should’ve made the list, but do I really need to tell you about this one?)
The Linda Lindas – “Racist Sexist Boy”
Interpol – “Gran Hotel”
Rammstein – “Angst”
HEALTH & The Body – “AD 1000”
Thanks for reading this far! I wouldn’t have! I’ll be posting more year-end stuff, specifically an albums post on NYE and a films post sometime when I feel like.
As I continue a hostile takeover of my own long-dormant blog, I had the idea to do a weekly post to highlight four things I loved this week – gonna see if I can keep it to one film, one wrestling match and two albums (one old, one new), all of which will be under-the-radar stuff. As in, this week I watched “The Usual Suspects” for the first time, and listened to Don McLean’s “American Pie” album for the first time, but you already know about those things so there’s no point in exercising my knuckles to tell you about them.
Of course, things won’t always align like that and I’m sure I’ll straight up forget to do this +50% of the time, but whatever it’s my blog I can do what I want here.
#1. Diane Coffee – “With People” (2022)
This album came to me via recommendation, as I, just like everyone else, seemed to have completely missed it dropping. Diane Coffee is an ex-drummer of Foxygen and appeared on the second Run The Jewels album. I admittedly have not really kept up with their solo work over the years, but their name never dropped off my radar, so to see the criminally low play counts on their new album on Spotify was shocking. Folks, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s an eclectic indie mix, complementing tuneful music with off-kilter vocals, like a more energetic Hamilton Leithauser. A guest spot from Deep Sea Diver really seals the deal, too. There were a couple really great new releases I checked out this week, but this one is the most undeservedly overlooked. We’re talking album of the quarter stuff, here.
Other new releases I recommend: Black Dresses – “Forget Your Own Face,” Moonlight Sorcery – “Piercing Through the Frozen Eternity,” black midi – “Hellfire”
#2. “I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang” (1932)
I’d been meaning to check this flick out ever since the ending action sequence made the rounds on twitter a few months back. I’ve seen a share of 30’s movies now and one issue I have with most dramas is inconsistency – segments of action followed by long stretches of nothing, etc. It might be worth noting that two films that kept me consistently engaged were this and “Scarface” – both films from 1932, and both starring Paul Muni. This one follows a WWI vet as he’s wrongfully arrested for simply being in a restaurant when it gets robbed. Once he’s thrown on a chain gang, he commits an actual crime of busting out and going on the lam. It’s years until he’s found, as he’s changed his identity and become a man of his local community, but a wicked government throws him back in prison and then lies about how long they’re keeping him there. It’s dark and it’s cynical, and both getaway scenes are brimming with genuinely thrilling action. I really don’t know why this film – and it’s cool, helpful title – are not talked about more often.
Other films I watched for the first time this week: The Usual Suspects (1995), Zombieland Double Tap (2019), Willy’s Wonderland (2021).
#3 Kasey Kirk vs. Danny Demanto – ICW No Holds Barred 24 (4/1/22)
Realistically, I don’t know if I’ll spend the time writing about matches each week, because I don’t really pore over old footage at all and just stick to a handful of American promotions (Impact, GCW, ICWNHB, H2O, sometimes AEW, and a few other indies I’ll check out if the cards are good). I spent some time this week catching up on ICWNHB shows – my favorite deathmatch promotion. I’ve been with them since early on in the chains rebranding at the top of 2020, but they spent much of that year & 2021 being a cool, ho-hum deathmatch company with a couple noteworthy moments (60 minute ironman match, new title). In 2022, Demanto’s org has suddenly made a major push for recognition on the independent scene, with nearly every chains event being well worth your time, if you can stomach the violence. Coupled with that is the sudden push to give Kasey Kirk a spotlight as a singles competitor and not just a valet/interferer for her husband Brandon. She’s already defeated John Wayne Murdoch, Joel Bateman, and her own damn husband (in a very fun match I saw in person!) so for her to go up against, and beat, the head of the company – well it just made sense. Kasey and Danny don’t hold back – I mean, it’s Danny Demanto – as the violence escalates to thrilling and uncomfortable levels. 2022 has felt like a solid year for women in deathmatch wrestling, and this match is a highlight of that.
#4. Repulsion – “Horrified” (1989)
If you’ve for some reason continued to read this far, then you may already be familiar with the sole studio album from the band Repulsion. There’s more than enough gaps in my knowledge for me to call myself a metalhead – I mean, I kicked this piece off writing about Diane Coffee – but I closed one this week. The album was a massive influence on a generation of (largely worse) death metal, goregrind and grindcore groups. The tracks are direct in their filth, with song titles like “Splattered Cadavers,” “Bodily Dismemberment,” and “Festering Boils.” If there’s a body part, there’s a song. This album also sets the tone for grindcore moving forward, at 18 songs and 29 minutes. There’s a certain something in the production of this album that feels particularly grimy – every song sounds very rough and muddy without being overbearing. It feels like something that’s been mimicked a thousand times but never copied. “Horrified” won’t win any new fans to metal, but it should be a mandatory listen for anyone trying to trace the roots of grindcore et al.
Other older releases I enjoyed for the first time this week: Don McLean – “American Pie” (1971), The Buggles – “The Age of Plastic” (1980), Spoon – “A Series of Sneaks (1998), Oathbreaker – “ErosAnetros” (2013), Lingua Ignota – “All Bitches Die” (2018)
That’s four things I enjoyed this week! I’d like to keep this going weekly, or perhaps I’ll do one monthly as this took longer than I expected. If you actually read any of this, thanks! That’s very nice of you! I hope you feel an urge to check any of these out if they’re up your alley. Feel free to send me any recs of stuff you think I may enjoy as well!
It’s been a long time since I’ve done a proper review on this site, so it’s only fitting that my first post back is covering two new songs by Kira Velella – someone whose last release I covered nine long years ago. Velella is back with two new singles released independently of each other, though the songs feel intertwined conceptually.
“Even Then,” the newer of the two songs, follows a familiar but comforting folk-country format. Velella starts the song by complementing a soft guitar rhythm with stronger vocals – the song’s central focus. They’re joined later by drums and steel pedal (courtesy of Kenny Shaw and Ryan Hommel, respectively), but it’s clear that your attention should settle solely on Velella here. Her vocal rhythms feel warmly optimistic, as do her lyrics, which weave a tale of imperfections in a healthy relationship. The song’s verses are a one-sided conversation to a lover, founded on the repetition of the phrase “Even when” – i.e. “Even when I start the fight / Even when I know you’re right / Even when I’m sorry comes too slow / Even then I know you won’t go.” Think of it as a total flip of Big Thief’s miserable (but wonderful) song “Not.” The song plays like a written letter left as a secret to be found later, a secret we’re privy to as listeners.
“You Light Me Up” – released back in October despite taking place on the Fourth of July – follows a related musical path as “Even Then.” “Light” is a tender folk song, missing the slight country influence of “Even” but similar otherwise. Everything feels a little more balanced on “Light,” with Velella’s vocals falling more into the mix and a soothing drum rhythm taking more prominence. Guitar remains a focus, but there’s a faint piano line hidden behind everything else that adds some nice ambiance. The song is also an ode to an imperfect but cherished relationship, with a warm nostalgia, but more hints of vulnerability. The relationship in this song still sounds lovely, but something about it feels a little less concrete than in “Even Then.” Everything detailed in the song is in the past, looking back on good times, as opposed to a continuous presence. In both of these songs, Velella nails the complicated human mistakes and roughness of relationships that are often too sanitized or dumbed down by other artists.
The two songs work as both parts of a whole and as opposites of each other. Velella takes center stage on “Even,” a song that takes place in a universe of only two people – her and the person she’s singing to. On “Light,” there’s an almost immediate reference to other people in the neighborhood, and Velella herself sounds further in the mix, in the crowd of instruments. “Even Then” feels like a evening drive on a nice summer night in the open, where “You Light Me Up” feels more like the Independence Day it describes – a little crowded and warm, but still lovely and fun. Both songs have some cracked nostalgia, but are ultimately warm and rewarding folk odes to those we love nearly unconditionally. As we approach the doldrums of the relentless summer heat in yet another collectively terrible year, we can use some solace in songs like these.
Look, it’s been a weird year. I don’t really want to talk about it. What I do want to talk about is music, always, and what I’ve found is that there’s been a ton of great, under the radar stuff this year. I may do a proper post about what albums I’ve loved so far in 2022, but this post is specifically dedicated to songs you may have missed. You don’t need two posts about how great Bad Bunny or Sharon Van Etten are. So this post is 20 songs, unranked, that I think you should hear. I didn’t put any effort into planning genres here, just grabbed 20 that I love, but there’s a mix from noise to ska to old school hip-hop!
8 Kalacas – “Frontera”
Coming out of the gates with a controversial choice, because I know some people don’t like metal, and some people really don’t like ska, so ska-metal might sound atrocious. But 8 Kalacas combines the two in a way detached from any dopey 90’s skacore done by ignorant white dudes. Not to say that the music isn’t fun, because it’s a guilty pleasure of a track, but there’s enough genuine artistic passion and seriousness in the lyrics – a tale about immigrating back to Mexico after the American dream has failed you – to present this as a woeful tune demanding of your attention.
I know absolutely nothing about this band and, full disclosure, I only found them on a bigger blog doing this exact same type of midyear post. I don’t know how they found this band, a new Icelandic band who’s debut album has yet to muster 3500+ spotify plays for any song. But boy does this rip. This is the exact type of music I was looking for in my teens – guitar-heavy goth shit. This has the sound of a noisy, combustible no wave or noise rock band, but the vocals of something more gothic. It’s loud, melodic, dark and extremely sweaty. More of this, please.
FFO: METZ, mclusky, sweating your mascara off
Foxtails – “space orphan”
There’s a handful of albums I’ve listened to or added to lists to listen that were based off recommendations where I simply cannot remember where they were recommended to me. I jumped into this album entirely unfamiliar with the group, but based on the low-caps band name/album title/song titles and the cutesy album cover, I was expecting some tender indie. What I got instead was an inspired mix of alternative, violin, and scream-y vocals, not out of the realm of Defiance, Ohio, but less gimmicky then them too. This song is more representative of how much I loved the album in general, but it rips. There’s some very chaotic, downright uncomfortable stuff going on here.
FFO: Defiance Ohio, Gouge Away, having a breakdown in small town america
HEALTH/Ada Rook/PlayThatBoyZai – “MURDER DEATH KILL”
MDK ALL FUCKIN DAY
HEALTH is one of my favorite bands, and Ada Rook is maybe my favorite screamer right now, so this pairing just makes sense. The industrial group has been working with tons of artists – most notably Nine Inch Nails – across two collaborative albums. Results have been mixed, but this absolute ripper of a 2-minute song makes it all worth it. Music doesn’t get much more in your face than this, an absolute wicked aura matched only by volume. Seems intentional that the title matches the slogan of a wrestler who was once killed in the ring, revived, and tried to fight the paramedics to clear him to finish the match. I’m MDK affiliated.
FFO: Backxwash, The Body, light tube bundles
KRS-One – “Raw Hip Hop”
Thirty-six years into his career, KRS-One doesn’t have anything he has to prove to anyone, and he’s allowed to do whatever he wants. While his new album – his 16th(!) solo record – varies in quality, it’s got some bangers like “Raw Hip Hop.” It lives up to the title, with a first-person overview of the genre’s history from someone who’s always been at the forefront of it. His forceful rapping is mixed with a minimalist beat, resulting in an old-school sounding song from an old-school artist. It’s criminal that he still flies under the radar.
FFO: Q-Tip, Biz Markie, an era without Machine Gun Kelly in it
Leikeli47 – “Chitty Bang”
Okay so you probably have heard this song, as it’s being used in a TV commercial right now (don’t ask me for what, I tune those out), but it’s worth a mention here as the full song is simply a blast. The song opens the rapper’s excellent new album “Shape Up,” the first of many straight fun songs on a Side A that plays like one long party jam. Given that “Zoom” has well eclipsed 5 million Spotify plays and “Done Right” seems to be on TikTok a lot, I’m guessing – hoping – that Leikeli47 isn’t on these lists much longer.
FFO: Princess Nokia, Rico Nasty, that brief era where MIA was huge
Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard – “The Harvest”
You’re right, I did want to write about this one partially because they have the best band name in music hands down. But I’ve been singing their praises for a few years now. I’m hit and miss when it comes to stoner metal, so it makes sense that I’d love this song that really toys with the format. It’s got the length (9:10) and it’s got the riffs – by god, does it have the riffs – but it’s also got spacey synths and dreamy vocals. It somehow sounds both warm and menacing at the same time, as if it is simply not of this planet. I’ll give you a few minutes to take a few tokes before we continue.
FFO: Blood Incantation, Neurosis, getting high in the forest and what, is that a UFO? is that a UFO?
Mattiel – “Lighthouse”
Mattiel is one of a handful of indie artists whose continued lack of mainstream success upsets me to no end. Their new album “Georgia Gothic” continues their trend of making very digestible indie tunes with diverse inspirations, but a complete sound. My personal favorite, “Lighthouse” is bolstered by horns and and an excellent, repeated vocal line. Songs like this were designed to stick in your head.
FFO: Sunflower Bean, Horsegirl, feeling restless on a nice summer day
MJ Lenderman – “Tastes Just Like It Costs”
The name MJ Lenderman has been on my radar for a bit but his recent “Boat Songs” album is the first release of his I’ve actually heard. His name usually comes up alongside folksier artists that I’m usually hit-and-miss on, so to hear an album of generally grungier, more old school alternative was a delightful surprise. This is possibly my favorite on the album, because I’m a huge sucker for a song that ends on a repeating line (as seen elsewhere on on this list). This is a poppy, fuzzy guitar song with a neat vocal rhythm, resulting in what Dinosaur, Jr. might sound like if J. Mascis was just a little bit playful.
FFO: Dinosaur, Jr., Pavement, flannel shirts
Otoboke Beaver – “I Won’t Dish Out Salads”
I picked this one up via a recommendation and only listened to it this week, and I remain confounded on how to even classify this band. It’s garage-punk, with the ferocity of noise and the vocals of something poppier. Too melodic for Melt Banana, too hardcore for J-pop, and the tracks are just the right length for grindcore (the album’s last three songs account for only 39 seconds of music). It’s fun, aggressive, and insanely melodic. There’s only one other band I’ve listened to this year that sounded similar, and they’re…
FFO: Melt Banana, Guerilla Toss, trashing the term “guilty pleasure” once and for all
Perennial – “Tooth Plus Claw”
I’m a little biased on this one, as I recently got to interview these fine folks about their excellent new album, but it’s one of my favorite songs from the year nonetheless. Perennial’s music is a blast in both ways, and this song works a mission statement – a bouncy dance-punk track that harmonizes fun and aggression, all wrapped up in 85 seconds. Some bands that came up in conversation were Be Your Own Pet & The Hives, and it’s hard not to see Perennial as a spiritual successor to both those names.
FFO: Be Your Own Pet, The Hives, chugging cold brew
PLOSIVS – “Hit the Breaks”
Somehow this supergroup comprising members of Pinback, Against Me! (Atom Willard!) and Hot Snakes seems to have gone completely under the radar. The opening song off their debut song definitely sounds like the latter band, an aggressive but melodic indie-punk ditty that sounds like it was designed to absolutely kill in a live setting. You could argue that we don’t need yet another jangly garage group – but when it sounds as good as this, who cares?
FFO: Hot Snakes, Les Savy Fav, dads that rock
Porridge Radio – “Birthday Party”
Naming a song “Birthday Party” and then repeating the line “I don’t wanna be loved” endlessly is the grimmest possible way to establish a song. But that’s what the indie group Porridge Radio is about. Add in the pained vocals, deceivingly catchy rhythms and faint sounds of kids in the background, and you’ve got one of the year’s most brutally depressing songs. It’s what to expect from Porridge Radio, and it’s done well across the whole album, but never as good as here.
FFO: Nick Cave, the sadder Los Campesinos! albums, working on your birthday
SOAK – “Purgatory”
We’ve seen an absolute glut of electric-acoustic indie with pretty vocals over the last decade, but it’s still so nice to find artists who can do it so well. This song, the opener to a very solid album, mixes comforting acoustic with more unpredictable electric rhythms and deceptively haunting vocals. Their voice sounds so, so much like Adrienne Lenker’s, which is to say pretty and haunting at the same time. The repetition on “I’ll be hungry forever” to end the song is an extra wrinkle on the song’s beauty.
FFO: Big Thief, Waxahatchee, autumn
Robert Stillman – “Cherry Ocean”
This song remains confounding to me. It’s just shy of 9 minutes, features just a few instruments and very hushed, difficult-to-decipher vocals. It’s the only song on the album with lyrics, as the album otherwise meanders around various subgenres of jazz. I *guess* this counts as jazz, too, but I’m not even comfortable with that label. All of the components of this feel warm – the piano drone, the sax, the quiet vocals – and yet the final product feels cold and questioning. The album’s title – What Does It Mean To Be An American? – comes from a different song, but in the year 2022 that is a menacing question, and this song reflects it. There’s practically nothing to pull from this track, and yet I keep coming back to it.
FFO: Mount Eerie, Gene Hackman playing saxophone at the end of “The Conversation”
Tropical Fuck Storm/King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – “Satanic Slumber Party Part 2 (Midnight in Sodom)“
Seemingly half of the current rock & punk bands I like come from Australia, so it only makes sense to see a team-up like this. I’ll admit I am not super familiar with TFS but Gizz has been my most played band each year since I got obsessed in 2018, and this song plays into their super wild side, just 6 minutes of chaotic art-punk that seems to never nail down any kind of central rhythm but also maintain just enough normalcy to not be pure cacophony. This song is pure, unadulterated fun. Gizz are by no means an undiscovered group but they released this split just weeks before their monstrous album “Omnium Gatherum” and it seems to have gotten lost in that album’s shadow. Also, be happy Gizz-heads: they’ve already committed to releasing 3 (!) more albums this year.
FFO: the better Animal Collective albums, black midi, riding a unicorn through a rainbow ocean
The Venomous Pinks – “Todos Unidos”
Ok so this song is actually 2 years old now and popped up on my radar last year, but the Arizona punk trio’s debut was finally released in June, so I’m counting it. Messy and angry, the song hearkens back to the times when hardcore punk was first burgeoning into the mainstream with its call to action and gang vocals. It feels refreshing to hear such straightforward street punk in an era where the genre label “punk” is arguably being thrown around too loosely. Given that they just wrapped up a tour with *the Dead Kennedys,* I would say to watch for this name.
FFO: Rancid, Pennywise, the great street punk bands from your hometown that split up to become firefighters
Weird Nightmare – “Searching For You”
Weird Nightmare is the solo project from Alex Edkins from METZ, but one listen to the song and you could probably figure that one out on your own. While the song is much more distinctly indie than anything METZ, the sweatiest band in the world, has done, it retains much of the same sound. Edkins still snarls his way through this slightly menacing track, and he remains infallible in his way of coupling melody and noise. This song takes heavy inspiration from some legendary 80’s/90’s guitar alternative, and we should be thankful for it.
FFO: METZ (obviously), Preoccupations, the crushing weight of a Tuesday afternoon
Zeal & Ardor – “Feed the Machine”
There weren’t a ton of albums I loved in Q1 this year so this new Zeal & Ardor album sat near the top of my list for a while. I truly don’t know why they’re not getting more attention than they are, though I blame the metal purists who demand every band follow the exact same script. Zeal & Ardor not only didn’t follow a metal script, they never even read it. This song – more indicative of how much I loved the album in general – starts with a damn stomp clap. The album takes black metal and incorporates elements of African music, chamber pop, industrial, folk, and just whatever the hell the band feels is appropriate. Nothing about it should work, and yet it does in a way that still makes metal feel fresh. Truly one of the best albums of the year so far.
FFO: Deafheaven, Author & Punisher, music that pisses off your parents and pisses off the people who make music to piss off your parents
Zola Jesus – “Sewn”
Zola’s new album “Arkhon” – only 1 day old at the time of me writing this – masterfully blends peaceful euphoria, haunting melodies and vengeful brooding into one album. My personal favorite from the album swings towards the latter, a menacing synth track that sounds like an animal creeping in the night. It hits remarkably well on the album, as the previous track is deceitfully melodic, but it works well as a standalone track as well.
FFO: Chelsea Wolfe, Jenny Hval, the Matrix nightclub scenes
And that’s 20! Thanks to anyone who actually read through all of this for some reason, I appreciate anyone so willing to discover new tunes! Also a shoutout to A Wilheim Scream, Blood Red Shoes & Thou, who all had songs that initially made the cut here before I swapped some around – I’ve loved these groups for years now. This was fun for me even if no one read it, so I’ll try to do another 20 at year’s end!
Hello, welcome, good morning! If you’re seeing this then you’re one of the many teens of people that have been following this long-defunct blog. After many attempts to kick myself in the ass and start using this site for music reviews again, I’m finally actually forcing myself to do it.
I don’t know what this will look like going forward, I may use this to also discuss other personal interests of mine (film, pro wrestling, leftist politics). It’s definitely going to be a looser place for my thoughts. I had set some weirdly rigid rules for myself when I first launched this site 9 (!) years ago that I simply do not want or need to follow. I’ll still be doing standard music reviews – and sure submissions can be open – but I will not be sticking to that.
In the meantime, if you’ve been desperate to read some music writing of mine (hi mom), then you catch up on some I’ve done for Allston Pudding, covering mostly local bands in my beloved home city. I’m particularly proud of the interviews with Perennial and the Dirty Nil. I’ll still be focusing there, especially for local premieres & gigs. But I’d love to restart this blog as a free-for-all collection of reviews, thoughts & opinions. K? K!
Listen I’m writing this on New Year’s Eve Morning and I think we can say that collectively this the worst year that mankind has experienced in decades. So! I don’t really want to talk about it. What I do want to talk about is all the great music released this year. My listening habits did change this year due to COVID, as I hardly re-listened to any music. This meant a higher album count, but it also means I didn’t fall in love with many songs like normal. Still, I’ve made a list of 50 songs that kept me intrigued and playing on loop. I’ve added vids and descriptions for the Top 20. Also, both of these lists were made pretty haphazardly so I’m likely forgetting something very important. Pls revel in the garbage I like!
50 Songs I Loved: 50-21, A-Z
Adrianne Lenker – “anything” (editor’s note: I compiled this list a few days ago and I now feel like this should’ve made the top 25. Sorry Adrianne) Car Seat Headrest – “Can’t Cool Me Down” Death Valley Girls – “I’d Rather Be Dreaming,” “Under the Spell of Joy” The Devil’s Twins – “Bad Karma” (lovely folks who I recently interviewed) Dua Lipa – “Don’t Start Now” Fiona Apple – “I Want You to Love Me,” “Shameika,” “Relay” Grimes – “4 ÆM” IDLES – “Grounds,” “Model Village” Orville Peck – “Summertime” Ozzy Osbourne – “It’s a Riot” (w/Post Malone) (shut up) Poppy – “All the Things She Said” (who better to do a t. A. T. u. cover?) Run the Jewels – “yankee and the brave,” “walking in the snow,” “the ground below,” Sad13 – “Ghost of a Good Time” SAULT – “Free,” “I Just Want to Dance” Static-X – “Terminator Oscillator” (leave me alone) The Strokes – “The Adults are Talking” Thao & the Get Downs – “Temple” Uniform – “Delco” U.S. Girls – “4 American Dollars” Washed Out – “Too Late” Waxahatchee – “Lilacs” The Weeknd – “Blinding Lights” Worriers – “Terrible Boyfriend”
50 Songs I Loved, 20-1, Ranked!
#20. Poppy – “Anything Like Me” – Poppy’s sudden heel turn from Internet-infused bubblegum pop into nu-metal was even more shocking than it was great, and it produced some jams. This was my favorite of the bunch. Poppy also soundtracked an actual heel turn.
#19. Uniform – “The Shadow of God’s Hand” – This is what anxiety sounds like! One of the best underground rock bands, living under myriad levels of distortion, pumped out one of their best songs yet. Not for the weary!
#18. Fiona Apple – “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” – Side A of this album is the best half-album of the year, this being the highest-ranked of five songs I fell in love with. The found percussion works the best here, as it sounds like an actual quarantine musical project (though recorded much earlier).
#17. METZ – “A Boat to Drown In” – METZ are, unequivocally, the loudest band I’ve ever seen. And this song rivals their early masterpiece “Wet Blanket” as their most intense song. If I ever get to see them live again, this is what will finally kill my ears.
#16. Wasted Shirt – “All Is Lost” – More on this duo in the albums section, but this is one of the most fun rock songs of the year despite barely having any central rhythm. The dual-shriek kicks off the album, followed closely by a cacophony of guitar and drums. And it doesn’t let up.
#15. Mura Masa & Slowthai – “Deal Wuv It” – This is some weird and occasionally obnoxious British rap but god if this isn’t a super energetic and fun track. It was released very early in 2020 and soundtracked an otherwise slow start to the music year for me
#14. Tame Impala – “Breathe Deeper” – I don’t love Tame Impala like most skinny flannel white guys, but they do have jams. I love the extended bridge to this song, where a long, breezy rhythm suddenly stops with the tape and a whole new song briefly starts. It’s fun!
#13. clipping. – “Say the Name” – The two rapid-fire albums from clipping. over the last two years have been such bold, important and confident works, and this song is the epitome of them. Daveed Diggs raps at a surprisingly normal pace in a frustrated tone over a baritone vocal sample. This one’s not fun, it’s urgent.
#12. Phoebe Bridgers – “Kyoto” – Alright listen I’m short on time and if you’re reading this you probably already have a hard opinion on this song, let’s move on.
#11. Perfume Genius – “Nothing At All” – Mike Hadreas ditched his twinkly bedroom pop in favor of a droning, shoegaze-inspired guitar riff. But he kept his pained vocals and lyrics that touch on imperfect lyrics. Somehow, it’s even more affecting. This isn’t a sad song, but it sure sounds like one.
#10. Hamilton Leithauser – “Here They Come” – The first half of this song is a red herring, with Leithauser singing in a muted tone over a soft guitar. But he erupts in his more shrieking singing, with a fuller band. The whole second half retains a constant jovial high – try kicking this one from your head. Also, Ethan Hawke!
#9. Gorillaz/Peter Hook/Georgia – “Aries” – Gorillaz & New Order is just a winning combo, how could it not be? This song drifts along as it subtly becomes one of the year’s best earworms. The lethargic chorus from 2-D is somehow infectious through repetition while the Peter Hook riff is so simple yet so memorable.
#8. IDLES – “Mr. Motivator” – Okay these are the corniest lyrics from a band that already makes cringe-y metaphors and performative politics, but it’s also so high-energy that it’s easy to overlook. It’s raucous and fun while still being topical. I love this band dearly (more on that later) and this still has a great message.
#7. Bully – “Where to Start” – Bully has transformed as a solo project for Alicia Bognanno, who has wielded it as an outlet for her personal issues. This song, a straight grunge song with some her best vocal work yet, is a passionate ode to a lover, but it’s not clear if anyone’s listening. It’s also a good catharsis-inducer for the listener, if you let it be.
#6. Run the Jewels/Pharrell/Zack de la Rocha – “JU$T” – The largely minimalist production of “RTJ4” really lets the four-pronged vocal attack take the rhythm. It’s a bop, but it’s also a brutal attack on the nation’s few pedophile billionaires who run everything. Even if you have huge personal successes, you’re still under their control. Fun stuff!
#5. Phoebe Bridgers – “Garden Song” – The minimalist folk song that basically opens up her brilliant album is my personal favorite from it. The dreamy lyrics about a peaceful future with a loved one mix well with her soft vocals and a barely audible guitar line. This is Phoebe’s comfort zone for a reason.
#4. Grimes – “My Name is Dark – Art Mix” – The tragic downfall of Grimes from cool, feminist indie darling to crypto-fascist mother of a Musk spawn is distressing to say the least. I borderline hate that I still love her music, but I do, especially this song. The lyrics are Hot Topic diary nonsense but the swooping music and her full-volume vocals make this a hell of a ride. Great song for headphones!
#3. Bully – “Turn to Hate” – This is a good song no matter who does it. The original was an alt-country track by Orville Peck (only released last year), but Bognanno’s version proves it was destined to be a grunge song. She approaches this like she doesn’t know someone’s recording and she’s just releasing fury from her system. She has one of the best voices in rock today, and in my opinion, this is the superior version.
#2. Jeff Rosenstock – “Scram!” – The nicest boy in music doesn’t usually get this angry, but I’m glad he did. This is a mean, messy song reminiscent of BTMI!, this writer’s favorite band. It’s the best punk song of the year, a rollicking great time that demands you sing along. I only wish we got another chorus – the song’s too short!
#1. The Beths – “I’m Not Getting Excited” – What I loved about the Beths first album was how they created such great indie songs that wavered on punk from familiar, standard rhythms. It made this – the first song on their second album – all the more surprising, that it’s more downtune and grittier. It’s a necessary, but unexpected progression. The chorus is still catchy and annoyingly earworm-y, but it’s a great total package. This band is for everyone!
I ended the year having listened to 280 albums/live albums/EP’s – a personal best. I was going to write about 50 great ones but then that became 75 and became 100. So here’s 100 albums I loved! Similar to the songs list you just hurriedly scrolled past, I’m going to simply list 75 I loved and want to shout out, with deeper recs for my favorites.
Also – I covered some great local (Boston) artists over at Allston Pudding. Originally, I had ~5 albums from our year-end list on mine, but it felt a little like playing favorites, so I’m going to just say to check out everything we recommended, it’s all brilliant. You can also check out my less garbage-y breakdown of the best stuff over at The Filtered Lens. Okay, since I assume you have the spare time to listen to 100 albums, here’s my 2020 picks:
100 Albums I Loved (100-26):
070 Shake – Modus Vivendi 21 Savage & Metro Boomin – Savage Mode II ACxDC – Satan is King (please note that this is the grindcore band, not the classic rock band that’s been releasing the same album since 1980) Adrianne Lenker – instrumentals Angel Olsen – Whole New Mess Arca – KiCk i Bad Bunny – Las que no iban a salir Bad Bunny – El Último Tour del Mundo beabadoobee – Fake It Flowers Bob Dylan – Rough and Rowdy Ways Bob Mould – Blue Hearts Bruce Springsteen – Letter to You (this is the old dudes section of the list) Busta Rhymes – Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God Caribou – Suddenly Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated Side B The Chats – High Risk Behaviour Death Valley Girls – Under the Spell of Joy Deftones – Ohms Diet Cig – Do You Wonder About Me? Disclosure – ENERGY Dogleg – Melee Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou – May Our Chambers Be Full (this might be #26 on my list) Esh & the Isolations – Idiot Fingerz (while he didn’t make the Pudding year-end list, this was my favorite local release of the year. Had the pleasure of interviewing him as my first piece) Frances Quinlan – Likewise Fuzz – III Gorillaz – Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez Hayley Williams – Petals For Armor HEALTH – DISCO4 :: PART 1 Hinds – The Prettiest Curse Honey Cutt – Coasting Hum – Inlet Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – Reunion Jessie Ware – What’s Your Pleasure? Kitty – Charm and Mirror Kurt Vile – Speed, Sound, Lonely KV Lady Gaga – Chromatica Lil Uzi Vert – Eternal Atake Liturgy – Origin of the Alimonies Machine Gun Kelly – Tickets To My Downfall (hate that I enjoyed this) Mark Lanegan – Straight Songs of Sorrow (i’m halfway into his recent memoir, it’s brilliant and punishing) Megan Thee Stallion – Good News Melkbelly – PITH Moses Sumney – Græ Mr. Bungle – The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny (Demo) (these songs were written before I was born, but since they were recently re-recorded, I decided it was fine to include. Sorry to Neil Young’s “Homegrown”) Ms. Piss – Self-Surgery Napalm Death – Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism Necrot – Mortal (this is the metal section of the list) Nine Inch Nails – Ghosts V: Together Nine Inch Nails – Ghosts VI: Locusts Oceanator – Things I Never Said Oneohtrix Point Never – Magic Oneohtrix Point Never Orbit Culture – Nija Osees – Metamorphosed Osees – Protean Threat (Jon Dwyer also released an Osees live album, an Osees remix album and a Damaged Bug album. He’s restless.) Pearl Jam – Gigaton Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs – Viscerals Porridge Radio – Every Bad Power Trip – Live in Seattle: 05.28.2018 (I wouldn’t normally include a live album in my lists but the world lost one of the coolest musicians alive a few months ago. I had the pleasure of seeing PT once and they brought the Paradise Music Hall down. Rest in Power, Riley Gale) Princess Nokia – Everything is Beautiful Princess Nokia – Everything Sucks Rico Nasty – Nightmare Vacation Shamir – Cataclysm Shamir – Shamir Soccer Mommy – color theory Spanish Love Songs – Brave Faces Everywhere The Strokes – The New Abnormal Tame Impala – The Slow Rush Teenage Halloween – Teenage Halloween Thundercat – It Is What It Is Thurston Moore – By the Fire TORRES – Silver Tongue U. S. Girls – Heavy Light Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud The Weeknd – After Hours Wolf Parade – Thin Mind Worriers – You Or Someone You Know X – Alphabetland (first album in 27 years !!) Yaeji – What We Drew 우리가 그려왔던 Yves Tumor – Heaven to a Tortured Mind (this may have made the top 25 but I ran out of time for a re-listen)
100 Favorite Albums (25-1)
#25. The Avalanches – We Will Always Love You – After the middling end result of 2016’s Wildflower, the Avalanches have largely ditched their original concept of sample-based indie songs in favor of original music. There are still samples, but – much like the recent Gorillaz album that just missed the top 25 itself – this album is focused mostly on collaborations that play to the strengths of the guests. What results is a beautiful, flowing dance album that has everyone from Vashti Bunyan to Rivers Cuomo. Despite the band’s continued fracturing, it’s a joyous record.
#24. Rina Sawayama – SAWAYAMA – So “Army of Me” happened to have just come up on shuffle, but it made me realize that this album is similar to Björk’s Post, in that it’s an experimental pop album where every song sounds totally unique from the next yet the end result is a completely cohesive piece. It’s a smart and patient album, with a diverse mix of styles and influences that feels well beyond its years. Absolutely breathtaking feat for a debut.
#23. The Microphones – The Microphones in 2020 – So I debated which list to put this on, given the album is one solitary, 44-minute long song. But it is, conceptually, an album. After ~10 minutes of Phil Elverum playing two chords, it follows him as he details his musical journey, from the start through The Microphones through Mount Eerie. Elverum – the only person here – has had an abysmal couple years, as detailed in the two recent, brutally emotional Mount Eerie albums. Here, he sounds more detached, seeking some sort of catharsis by recounting everything – a tell-all from a normally reclusive guy. It’s not for everyone, but it’s engaging if you give it a chance.
#22. Adrianne Lenker – songs – Speaking of emotionally devastating songwriters, Lenker holed herself up in quarantine, detached from her Big Thief bandmates, and produced this album of heartbreaking, acoustic songs. There’s nowhere to hide from Lenker’s onslaught of pained vocals and traumatizing lyrics. These songs are recorded as if they’re necessary for Lenker’s continued survival. My favorite Lenker song is Big Thief’s “Shoulders,” about witnessing your father kill your mother, but this album’s “anything,” about attempting suicide on Christmas Eve, is a close second. Fun stuff!
#21. Bad Bunny – YHLQMDLG – I’m a dumbass white boy who doesn’t keep a tab on Latin music or speak a word of Spanish, but I know bangers when I hear them. This album – the best of three Bad Bunny albums this year – is chock full of them. It’s a 65 minute long party, and a journey through a whole array of stylistic influences. Only a few songs here stretch over four minutes, keeping the listener on their toes through constant tonal shifts. Bangers are universal!
#20. Poppy – I Disagree – It feels disrespectful to put this over Bad Bunny but, I did say this was my personal garbage list. Poppy’s sudden dive into metal produced an album far better than I expected. Poppy’s piercing vocals add an interesting element to the music, and adds just enough uniqueness to upset the metal purists – usually a sign of something good. It borders on corny, but it’s extremely fun all the same.
#19. Charli XCX – how i’m feeling now – The first big quarantine project that dropped remains one of the best. The cover, Charli lounging in bed; the lyrics, about how boring life has become and how much she misses her friends as she site around and watches TV. There’s love songs, glitch-pop, ballads, and EDM anthems, all songs that sound like they’re designed to be played live; a product not meant to be cruel but nostalgic. It’s fun in the music and the shared misery for the world pre-COVID. Charli doesn’t miss.
#18. Duma – Duma – This album, a debut, is what you get when you throw all standards and tropes out the window. It’s a healthy mix of industrial, grindcore, black metal, trap and world. If that sounds confusing, well it is. The Kenyan band throw regional influences into an already morphing black metal scene. It’s a challenging, beyond abrasive listen only meant for hardened listeners. Some songs show a softer side, while some lack any sort of rhythm altogether. It’s simultaneously unlistenable and brilliant. Also, I ruined an otherwise digestible Allston Pudding playlist by sneaking a song from this album in.
#17. Perfume Genius – Set Your Heart on Fire Immediately – Mike Hadreas has developed a knack for creating emotionally affecting songs out of very little. This album gives into those desires, as the best songs feature some of the simplest rhythms and vaguest lyrics. But it’s all beautiful – Hadreas resorts to his comfort zone of pained vocals and songs about off-kilter relationships good and bad, be he ditches his normal dream-pop in favor of guitar and shoegaze influences. Any new album from him has become appointment listens, and this one is no different.
#16. clipping. – Visions of Bodies Being Burned – If the title didn’t give you the general feeling of this affair, then the booming bass vocal sample that opens “Say My Name” will. A follow-up to 2019’s equally brilliant There Existed an Addiction to Blood, this album is a near-hour attack of bludgeoning bass and urgent lyrics, far more direct and relevant than some of the band’s earlier sci-fi conceptual stuff. Daveed Diggs focuses less on breaking the vocal landspeed record to deliver straight-forward lyrics, mired equally in art and politics. clipping. should really be bigger than they are.
#15. Grimes – Miss Anthropocene – I’ve said earlier and in other posts about my soured feelings towards Claire Boucher, but damn, I still love this album. It’s closer to her earlier works than her more conventional Art Angels, though that also remains her peak. It’s experimental pop that falls somewhere between genres; “Violence” is indie-radio ready while “So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth” is dreamy art-pop. Musically, it’s her most eclectic mix, taking everything she’s done before and producing something new from it. Lyrically it’s a mess of faux-scene kid cyberpunk garbage but, we can’t expect much more from the partner of a crypto-fascist billonaire who makes le epic jokes on Twitter.
#14. illuminati hotties – FREE I.H: This Is Not The One You’ve Been Waiting For – It lives up to the title! This album, a collection of discarded and/or incongruous ideas that Sarah Tudzin passed out while working on a proper album, is not like what she’d done before. She seemed taken aback by the positive response to this collection that was only given out as a holdover, but it shows how masterful of a songwriter she’s become in only a few years. A mix of her classic tenderpunk (it’s a thing, folks) and some harder-edge stuff, it’s a fun and whiplash-inducing quick little mix. She accidentally set the bar very high for her next proper release!
#13. Wasted Shirt – Fungus II – This one was huge for me on a personal level as it brought to creation one of my dream collaborations – Ty Segall and Brian Chippendale. The former, a beyond prolific garage rocker and the latter, the veteran drummer of noise band Lightning Bolt. I expected chaos, and I got it. In a rare move, Segall mostly takes a backseat and lets Chippendale control most songs, which means this sounds closer to a Lightning Bolt album than anything. The more riotous and uncoordinated the album gets, the better it gets; just a mess of avant-garde guitar and drums and indecipherable vocals. There’s a very limited audience, but I’m the target demo.
#12. METZ – Atlas Vending – I mentioned it earlier, but METZ is the loudest band I’ve ever seen, and their frenetic, ear-busting sound is often committed well to tape. But this – their fourth – feels like the first great album since their 2012 debut. Individual tracks matter less than the collective, punishing whole. But closer “A Boat to Drown In,” mentioned in the song portion, might be the loudest song they’ve done yet. METZ is the reason I need live music to return.
#11. Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia – That’s a transition. This is the fun pop album we need to dance to alone in our rooms. It’s telling that it came out in Before Times. The album tries to predict the future of pop music, and although it couldn’t predict what would come just weeks later, it gives us a hope for a confident, disco future. Love odes to partners and yourself are all across this, what might be the most fun album of the year. Dua Lipa sticks the landing on the always important sophomore album.
#10. Backxwash – God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It – Like some other releases on this list, this album excels in short blasts of songs and a brief runtime. Unlike other albums on this list, it’s horrorcore – rap inspired by horror imagery. In this case, it’s sample-heavy and inspired heavily by Black Sabbath and Satanic imagery. But the lyrics are very real, coming from the heart of Backxwash, a black trans woman from Zambia residing in Canada. It’s a brilliant and painfully honest melding of ideas that’s unlike anything else I listened to this year. If you’re not convinced, keep in mind this won the Solaris Prize, awarded to the best Canadian album of the year and held by luminaries like Kaytranada and Arcade Fire.
#9. Uniform – Shame – I’ve been frustrated with the last couple Uniform albums as I felt like they didn’t lean totally into their gimmick. Shame, however, floored me. Strip everything away and Uniform is a rock band, but they layer everything under mountains of distortion and violent lyrics for an end result that sounds like something you’re not supposed to hear. The opening one-two punch of “Delco” and “The Shadow of God’s Hand” is the best opener of the year, and it never lets up. Just a harsh, noisy anxiety thrill ride. SO MUCH BLOOOOOOD!
#8. SAULT – Untitled (Black Is) & Untitled (Rise) – Two separate albums, but they were released only two months apart and serve the same purpose, so I’m treating them as one. SAULT is a mysterious UK R&B collective that melds crisp production, ear-popping funk and topical lyrics on race. The thirty-five songs across these two albums are basically all groovy earworms that are impossible to stay still to. Some, like “I Just Want to Dance,” have lyrics that echo that. Some, though, like “Strong,” are calls for unity and strength in the face of systematic racism. The beauty of these two albums is how subtly the group delivers urgent messages into your brain, as if subliminally. Rarely is political music designed to be so universally appealing, but these albums are.
#7. The Beths – Jump Rope Gazers – If you couldn’t tell by me calling a Beths song my favorite this year, I love this band. Their sophomore album follows their debut in an appealing combination of punk energy, indie sound, and pop songwriting. They are defiantly indie, and there’s nothing revolutionary happening across Gazers, but their songs are insanely catchy with a high replay value. It’s a confident performance, especially from singer Elizabeth Stokes, whose vocals wonderfully fit whatever emotion any given song calls for. This album is more of a romp than anything else I heard all year. It’s 2020 still. We take these.
#6. Bully – SUGAREGG – For Bully’s third album, Alicia Bognanno stripped away her bandmates to record by herself, although it still resembles a full band effort. This was less the product of quarantine and more one of personal demons. Her songwriting has never been subtle, but she really lets us into her mental health struggles on this one. Bully is fundamentally a grunge band, and SUGAREGG would not sound out of place next to Celebrity Skin. These are straightforward rock songs under layers of distortion and wailing, emotional vocals. Her catharsis hits like a cold shower, and the fact that these songs are so catchy feels like a happy accident (it’s not). Bognanno is one of my favorite current singers, and this is her best work yet.
#5. Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters – Given the infrequency, a new Fiona album is a landmark event. And this one feels like the definitive quarantine album – recorded mostly alone in her place, featuring found percussion and outside noises kept in the background. Ironic that it was all recorded prior to COVID. Side A starts with an incredible run of six of the year’s best songs, mostly experimental indie-pop songs that use a certain looseness to play with structure. Side B adheres more towards standard Apple stuff, but it’s all extraordinary. Throughout, she waxes nostalgic about her worst periods and the people who taught her confidence, as well as odes to those she loves. Her poetic borderline-spoken word vocals are better than ever, too. Is this her best album? That’s a *high* grading curve.
#4. IDLES – Ultra Mono – Everyone that has heard UK punk group IDLES seems to have a hard opinion on them. The love & hate mostly all comes down to the corny lyrics. I’ll admit that they lay too heavily into the cringe here – the opening line is Joe Talbot making a sword noise, and a few songs later he has a deeply weird line about Kathleen Hanna & Trump on an otherwise great song. But the extremely direct leftist politics feel refreshing in a way other bands haven’t been able to accomplish lately. Not to mention, IDLES have always managed to capture a live energy in their albums, making songs that are super rhythmic while also being completely chaotic. They had big shoes to fill – I think their previous album Joy As An Act of Resistance is earnestly my favorite album – but they delivered. Some people think IDLES are just being performative but – isn’t that all punk?
#3. Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher – Wow yes this young white man in a flannel shirt loves Phoebe Bridgers, how cool and unique! But talk about a star-making album. Not that Bridgers was obscure before, but this elevated her to a household name, and for good reason. It’s the best indie album of the year, one filled with minimalist folk rhythms and deeply personal lyrics that combine youthful experiences with elderly nostalgia. It as the makings of a quarter-life crisis. The beauty in the lyrics is that no matter how personally specific Bridgers gets, there’s always a fundamental emotional issue that we can place in our own lives. There’s a reason I called this AOTY in other posts.
#2. Run the Jewels – RTJ4 – Run the Jewels do exactly one thing and they do it remarkably well – albums full of shortish, urgent rap songs with minimalist production that flow together like one long song. The title RTJ4 feels like an afterthought but it isn’t – it’s an abbreviation of their usual title. It tracks that the songs on this album are even more minimalist and even more topical and relevant than ever before. I still think their classic second album is the best, but this is the first RTJ album where I feel like I love every song. And the fact – mostly coincidence! – that it dropped right at the height of tensions after George Floyd’s murder made it feel like the most important album of the year. Both El-P and Killer Mike are in top form, and the guest spots are well-chosen; check the insane combination of Mavis Staples and Josh Homme! RTJ4 isn’t going to win over anyone who remains unconvinced, but it plays to all of their strengths in their tightest collection yet.
#1. Jeff Rosenstock – NO DREAM – It was game over for the AOTY contest when this dropped. Jeff, the singer of my longstanding favorite band and one of the nicest people alive, released one of his best-ever albums. It’s grittier and meaner than he’s been in many years, emulating his work in the mid-2000’s rather than his recent solo stuff. Like any Rosenstock album, though, it’s a loud, unhinged mess of energy with some softer ballads and pointed, critical lyrics that note how things could be better while still appreciating what we’ve got. His typical sad nostalgia is all on display, but there’s some tongue-in-cheek humor too, not something he’s done much of lately. NO DREAM touches on about every emotion you can think of, and does so in such an unpredictable and loud way that it feels like the perfect encapsulation of this godless year. Angry, funny, sad, screaming, whispering, alone, a group, nostalgic, optimistic, and all in 40 minutes. The Jeff Rosenstock experience. The 2020 experience.
(not the Timberlake thing).
If you read all this way – why? What’s in this for you? But really, thanks! I plan on using this blog again more regularly next year, I’ve abandoned it for too long. And remember, we’ve all had tough years and much as today/tomorrow feels like catharsis, we can’t let our guards down now. We’re not out of this yet, we need to stay safe. But remember we’re all in this together and there’s no shame in reaching out to loved ones if it becomes to much to bear. It was a weird year, let’s hope that doesn’t keep up. See you for another 10k word post next NYE!
Hey! Hi! Hello! I’m still alive and paying for this domain – and although I haven’t had time to maintain this blog in a few years, I want to try to start again! I’m sure my [REDACTED NUMBER] followers will be delighted 🙂
(Review originally published on thefilteredlens.com)
A lot has changed since the release of Grimes’ last album, 2015’s untouchable “Art Angels.” The album’s mix of bouncy and eerie pop melodies rocketed the already-rising Grimes into a much bigger light, and placed near the top of seemingly every year-end list (overshadowed solely by “To Pimp a Butterfly”). In that time she’s come as close to a household name as someone who makes eclectic dream-pop would, all the while testing some fans and hyping up others with her surprise romance with Tesla/Space-X epic bacon dudebro Elon Musk. My opinion of her has soured, deeply, but my opinion of her music hasn’t. It’s difficult to weight the two against each other for her new album, but it’s a stellar album nonetheless.
From a sheer musical standpoint, “Miss Anthropocene” is a big departure from the conventional structures of “Art Angels,” and is more aligned with her older work. It’s a smart attempt to try and re-couple with the section of fans that didn’t approve of the last album’s conventionality. A majority of the songs across “Anthropocene” have a much more atmospheric tone, with sweeping synth and distant, largely indecipherable vocals and lyrics. At the same time, she ropes in some elements of nu-metal, much akin to the recent Poppy heel turn. The album’s only real bop is the excellent “4ÆM,” which punctures the format by adding some breakbeats.
Thematically, “Anthropocene” takes on a much darker tone than its predecessor (which wasn’t exactly a glimmer of hope, itself). The album follows a goddess of climate change who, very literally, wants to watch the world burn. Various songs address various apocalypses (think King Gizz’s “Murder of the Universe”) from climate change (“So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth”) to opiate addiction (“Delete Forever”). It’s a lofty ambition for someone who’s career was at a bit of a crossroads, and she pulls it off masterfully well. Some of the album’s slowest tracks, like “New Gods” and “Before the Fever,” don’t exactly demand immediate replays. But on the context of a full album, they highlight songs like the rapid “4ÆM” and the euphoric closer “IDORU” remarkably.
If Grimes is attempting to reconnect with her older roots here – and she may not be, but “Anthropocene” is similar to older releases like “Halfaxa” – then there is a contradictory elephant in the room. Grimes got her start in witch house, although she never felt fully encompassed in the genre. Witch house bands are inherently anti-technology, with some choosing unsearchable names like oOoOO and ///▲▲▲\\\. “Anthropocene” isn’t a witch house album, but the roots are still there, and the sentimentality is present. Early single “We Appreciate Power” (left off the album but available on deluxe versions) is sung from the POV of an AI propaganda machine. It’s a powerful message (and a great song). But it is easily misconstrued because of the POV as being some kind of pro-techno-fascist nightmare, and it’s telling that it isn’t immediately apparent that Grimes meant otherwise. Her coupling with Elon Musk, our era’s most worryingly successful techno-fascist, deems a lot of the album’s genuine concerns either contradictory or irrelevant. Not to mention, her faux-edgy Tumblr aesthetics feel a lot sillier this time around, with song titles like “Delete Forever” and “My Name is Dark” and lyrics like (seriously) “So we party when the sun goes low / Imminent annihilation sounds so dope.” I watched the film “Snowpiercer” for the first time last night (inspired by “Parasite,” not by this album) and knowing how Musk is developing super-transportation and accumulating ungodly personal wealth amidst a likely catastrophic climate crisis, it felt….on the nose. This, uh, musk, is extremely difficult to shake off while listening to “Anthropocene.”
That said, if you can look past that, or if you’re a fan of Musk and this partnership, then this still an incredible record. Glorifying and horrifying, Grimes plays to all of her own strengths. The album is almost devoid of bangers like “Kill V. Maim,” but as good as that song is, it never felt like Grimes’s comfort zone. From the eerily quiet intro “So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth” to the sonic vaccuum of “My Name is Dark” to the unexpectedly sweet finale, “Anthropocene” is a well-rounded and satisfying that, like her previous albums, is bound to get better with each listen. There is a lot to pick apart, especially in the urgency of some of the lyrics. But even just as a sonic experience, it feels miles ahead of “Art Angels” in scope and ambition, even in the quiet moments. I wasn’t sure what direction Grimes would take after “Angels,” but she really sticks the landing.