Spare Oom Playlist, January 2021 Edition

It’s about that time to post a monthly update of what I’ve been listening to over the past few weeks! This got me thinking a little bit about how the pandemic has affected the music biz over the last year, specifically in fact that it seems the heavy lean towards quarterly sales that we’ve long experienced has significantly changed. In the past, some bands would wait until Q4 for maximum sales or until just before they head out on tour to drop an album, but now many bands (and labels) have realized that the worst thing they could do is wait. So instead we’re seeing a slow but steady trickling of records and singles coming in early in the year. And instead of touring, they’re making special video appearances, whether as a pay-to-stream concert or as a remote connection to their fans.

Has this changed the sound of music? I think it has, in different ways. Productionwise, I’m hearing a significant change in the shape of the sound picture (as they call it): instead of everything glossed into a perfect letterboxed stereo production, it sounds more organic; maybe even a little rough around the edges. These are musicians recording on ProTools in their back offices instead of in Studio 2 at Abbey Road. That’s not to say it sounds worse; in fact, it sounds refreshing in an odd way. Like it’s a little more real and a little less flashy.

Compositionally, I think there’s a lot more introspection, which is not a big surprise at all. It’s been a hell of a year since this pandemic started, and not every musician is going to be in the mood for writing in their usual style. Being a writer stuck at home makes one rethink their creativity, both as a career move and as a creator. [I can confirm for instance that my own writing style has definitely shifted between last March and today.] In the process these new albums may sound less grandiose and more contemplative.

Sometimes I wonder if all of this will change the music industry significantly enough to cause a monumental shift in how it works and how musicians can work within it. The fallout of this pandemic has definitely changed the process of a lot of things; I’m only hoping that it’s changed the music, and the industry, for the better.

Let’s begin…

Wax Tailor, The Shadow of Their Suns, released 8 January. Wax Tailor kind of reminds me of bands like UNKLE and tweaker in that it’s essentially a one-person production (French trip-hop producer Jean-Christophe Le Saoût) featuring a rotating cast of musicians and guest singers. It’s somewhat darker and less goofy than previous albums (Dusty Rainbow from the Dark veered more in the quirky direction of The Avalanches).

Grandbrothers, All the Unknown, released 15 January. This was an amazing find! They’re a jazz duo with a mindset similar to GoGo Penguin in that their music is infused with elements of techno. In this instance, it’s literally an organic infusion: all the noises you hear are played on a grand piano and processed through samplers, with the piano melody laid on top. [If you want to understand what I mean, watch this video as it shows just how the above song was created sonically.] It’s an amazing album and it’s getting a lot of repeat plays here in Spare Oom.

Matthew Sweet, Catspaw, released 15 January. Good to hear that Sweet is still writing fun and groovy pop after all these years. It’s a fun album full of his trademark quirkiness and wit.

Shame, Drunk Tank Pink, released 15 January. A few years on from their stellar punk debut and they sound better than ever. This one’s a hell of a lot more angular but it’s just as racous and fun.

(G)I-DLE, I Burn EP, released 15 January. This K-Pop girl group releases another fantastic EP of catchy beats and attitude.

Arlo Parks, Collapsed in Sunbeams, released 29 January. Funky, groovy and laid back alternative soul that’s also catchy as hell. “Hurt” is one of my current earworms and I have no complaints!

Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, I Told You So, released 29 January. More funk, this time with a Seattle trio that really sinks into that boozy jazz groove. Also check out their damn fine cover of Wham!’s “Careless Whisper”!

Steven Wilson, The Future Bites, released 29 January. Wilson, these days better known as the guy behind all those award-winning 5.1 remasters of classic albums (oh yeah, and former Porcupine Tree leader) constantly recreates himself with every new solo project, and it’s always a pleasant surprise. (This particular video is a lot of fun, considering all the unexpected facial cameos!)

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Stay tuned for February’s playlist in a few weeks — looks like there’s some more great records dropping this month!

Best of 2020 and Singles Mix

Source: cover of ‘Ultra Mono’ by Idles. The image seems to fit this year’s events quite accurately.

What a weirdass year. Yeah? Let’s not do that again. Or if we have to, let’s do it without so much of the drama, okay?

ANYWAY. Here it is, the last day of the year, and I’m squeezing this post in during the last few remaining hours of the day/month/year. I don’t use Spotify that much at all so I don’t have any “this is what you listened to most” (or, to follow the recent meme, the “your playlist sucks because…”). I know I listened to KEXP the most, with the rest of my mp3 collection coming a close second. The station kept me sane, somewhat distracted, and in a calm mood for the most part, for which I thank them, especially morning DJ John Richards and midday DJ Cheryl Waters.

Do I have anything left to say about 2020? Not really. It was a year of difference and change for me and I’ve already talked about it over at Welcome to Bridgetown. Other than that…I just want to keep moving forward.

So! Here’s the top albums, songs, and a few other bits of enjoyment that kept me going this past year. Enjoy! (NOTE: I left off the YouTube links on the mixtape on the second half here, but I may edit them in at a later date.)

TOP ALBUMS:
20. Hum, Inlet
19. PVRIS, Use Me
18. Indigo Girls, Look Long
17. Phish, Sigma Oasis
16. Nation of Language, Introduction, Presence
15. Hayley Williams, Petals for Armor
14. HAIM, Women in Music Pt III
13. Taylor Swift, Folklore/Evermore
12. Sault, Untitled (Rise)
11. Pearl Jam, Gigaton
10. Idles, Ultra Mono
9. Prince, Sign o’ the Times (Super Deluxe Edition)
8. Secret Machines, Awake in the Brain Chamber
7. The Beths, Jump Rope Gazers
6. Bob Moses, Desire EP
5. BRONSON, BRONSON
4. K-DA, All Out EP
3. EoB, Earth
2. Deserta, Black Aura My Sun
1. Doves, The Universal Want

TOP SINGLES
20. Deserta, “Monica”
19. Green Day, “Father of All…”
18. EoB, “Olympik”
17. HAIM, “The Steps”
16. Sault, “I Just Want to Dance”
15. Secret Machines, “3, 4, 5, Let’s Stay Alive”
14. The Psychedelic Furs, “You’ll Be Mine”
13. Sault, “Free”
12. Bombay Bicycle Club, “Everything Else Has Gone Wrong”
11. Bob Mould, “American Crisis”
10. The Weeknd, “Blinding Lights”
9. Hayley Williams, “Simmer”
8. K-DA, “The Baddest”
7. BRONSON, “Dawn”
6. The Beths, “I’m Not Getting Excited”
5. K-DA, “More”
4. Fontaines DC, “Televised Mind”
3. Bob Moses & ZHU, “Desire”
2. Doves, “Carousels”
1. Idles, “Grounds”

….and more Best-Ofs…

Welcome Returns: Bands Reformed/Reactivated and Newly Recorded
Stabbing Westaward, Dead and Gone EP
Stone Temple Pilots, Perdida
The Boomtown Rats, Citizens of Boomtown
X, Alphabetland
Badly Drawn Boy, Banana Skin Shoes
Hum, Inlet
Secret Machines, Awake in the Brain Chamber
Semisonic, You’re Not Alone EP
Michael Penn, “A Revival”
Midnight Oil, The Makarrata Project EP
The Network, Money Money 2020 Pt II: We Told Ya So!

Surviving the Pandemic: What Kept Me Going
Elbow, #elbowrooms videos
Crowded House, Live from Home videos
Seatbelts, Session Starducks videos
KEXP, Live from the Front Yard series

Box Sets, Reissues, and Remasters
Depeche Mode, MODE
Supergrass, The Strange Ones 1994-2008
Porcupine Tree, In Absentia (Deluxe Edition)
The Primitives, Bloom! The Full Syory 1985-1992
Paul McCartney, Flaming Pie (Archive Collection)
Prince, Sign o’ the Times (Super Deluxe Edition)
John Lennon, Gimme Some Truth (Deluxe)

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THE SINGLES 2020

SIDE A
1. Secret Machines, “3, 4, 5, Let’s Stay Alive”
2. The Beths, “I’m Not Getting Excited”
3. Bob Moses & ZHU, “Desire”
4. Fontaines DC, “Televised Mind”
5. Idles, “Grounds”
6. Bob Mould, “American Crisis”
7. Pearl Jam, “Dance of the Clairvoyants”
8. Bombay Bicycle Club, “Everything Else Has Gone Wrong”
9. K-DA, “More”
10. Deserta, “Monica”
11. Cut Copy, “Love Is All We Share”

SIDE B
1. Doves, “Carousels”
2. The Psychedelic Furs, “You’ll Be Mine”
3. Green Day, “Father of All…”
4. Pet Shop Boys, “Will-O-the-Wisp”
5. Sault, “Free”
6. Hayley Williams, “Simmer”
7. HAIM, “The Steps”
8. Run the Jewels, “Ooh LA LA”
9. Nation of Language, “The Wall & I”
10. BRONSON, “Dawn”

SIDE C
1. Annie, “The Countdown to the End of the World”
2. EoB, “Shangri-La”
3. Hinds, “Good Bad Times”
4. The Weeknd, “Blinding Lights”
5. Green Day, “Oh Yeah!”
6. Semisonic, “You’re Not Alone”
7. beabadoobee, “Worth It”
8. Billie Eilish, “My Future”
9. Bruce Springsteen, “Letter to You”
10. Hum, “Step Into You”
11. Cults, “Spit You Out”
12. Paul McCartney, “Find My Way”

SIDE D
1. BRONSON, “Heart Attack”
2. Secret Machines, “Everything Starts”
3. Pearl Jam, “Superblood Wolfmoon”
4. Gorillaz, “Désolé”
5. GoGo Penguin, “Atomised”
6. Hotels, “Queens (West African Peanut Soup)”
7. Idles, “A Hymn”
8. Phoebe Bridgers, “Kyoto”
9. Working Men’s Club, “John Cooper Clarke”
10. The Avalanches, “Interstellar Love”

SIDE E
1. Gorillaz, “Strange Timez”
2. Billie Joe Armstrong, “Kids in America”
3. Throwing Muses, “Dark Blue”
4. Hayley Williams, “Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris”
5. Glass Animals, “Your Love (Déjà Vu)”
6. Phantogram, “Ceremony”
7. Doves, “Universal Want””
8. Deserta, “Save Me”
9. EoB, “Olympik”

SIDE F
1. Gerogia, “About Work the Dancefloor”
2. K-DA, “The Baddest”
3. I DONT KNOW HOW BUT THEY FOUND ME, “Leave Me Alone”
4. Holy Fuck, “Luxe”
5. The Naked and Famous, “Recover”
6. Future Islands, “For Sure”
7. Michael Penn, “A Revival”
8. Kestrels, “Don’t Dream”
9. Soccer Mommy, “Yellow Is the Color of Her Eyes”
10. Supercrush, “Be Kind to Me”
11. Wire, “Cactused”

SIDE G
1. I DONT KNOW HOW BUT THEY FOUND ME, “Nobody Likes the Opening Band”
2. Secret Machines, “Everything’s Under”
3. Gorillaz, “Aries”
4. PVRIS, “Use Me”
5. Tunde Adebimpe, “People”
6. Semisonic, “Basement Tapes”
7. Destroyer, “Crimson Tide”
8. Pearl Jam, “Alright”
9. Annie, “The Streets Where I Belong”
10. Ty Segall, “Jump Into the Fire”
11. BRONSON, “Keep Moving”

SIDE H
1. Indigo Girls, “Look Long”
2. Khruangbin & Leon Bridges, “Texas Sun”
3. Hinds, “Spanish Bombs”
4. The Avalanches, “Running Red Lights”
5. Sault, “I Just Want to Dance”
6. Idles, “Mr. Motivator”
7. Bob Mould, “Next Generation”
8. Stone Temple Pilots, “Perdida”
9. Phish, “Leaves”
10. Jónsi & Elizabeth Fraser, “Cannibal”
11. Death Cab for Cutie, “Fall On Me”

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See ya on the flip side, y’all.

End of Year Review IV

Whew! It’s another long one, as September had quite a few great records that dropped, some of which I had to skip due to space. This was definitely not your typical fourth quarter, as we weren’t inundated with thousands of new releases looking for a quick cash-in or a spin on the charts. In any other year, I’m sure the sales departments would be tearing out their hair because of this, but instead, we’re all running with what we’ve got, and in the process we’re getting some solid records out of it.

Throwing Muses, Sun Racket, released 4 September. I always love when Kristin Hersh releases a Muses record, because it’s always guaranteed to be weird and noisy fun!

Doves, The Universal Want, released 11 September. Another 90s fan and critic favorite returns with a surprise record that just blasts so many other 2020 records out of the park. This album contains the same power and drive of their previous albums, and it was well worth the wait. It’s one of my favorites of the year.

Sault, Untitled (Rise), released 18 September. The second of two Sault albums dropping this year, this one is slightly shorter and features more pop and radio-friendly tunes.

Semisonic, You’re Not Alone EP, released 18 September. Yet another great surprise return! This is a super fun EP full of catchy melodies.

Bob Mould, Blue Hearts, released 25 September. After several loud-but-introspective records from Mould, he lets out all his anger and frustration over the current administration and the pathetic situation it’s gotten us into. A powerful record and one of his best.

Prince, Sign o’ the Times (Super Deluxe Edition), released 25 September. If there’s one record I’ve been waiting for all year, it’s this one. If you thought the original 1987 record was amazing, this one provides so much more that went into making it, including tracks from the aborted Camille, Crystal Ball and Dream Factory projects, plus a complete live show.

IDLES, Ultra Mono, released 25 September. A fantastic third album from this Bristol band, one that’s no less aggressive than their previous but also inserts some surprisingly heartfelt melodies and lyrics as well. “Grounds” is in my top ten of the year, not to mention my Top Song To Crank Up Insanely Loud.

Annie, Dark Hearts, released 16 October. A lovely and dreamy record produced by Stefan Storm of The Sound of Arrows, and one that’s been playing during my writing sessions for the new projects. I definitely need to check out her back catalogue!

Bruce Springsteen, Letter to You, released 23 October. Some of Bruce’s best songs are when he’s in an introspective mood, and this year has been a perfect time for that. This record kind of reminds me of Tunnel of Love, in that it’s got some great radio-friendly tunes but also some dark and ponderous songs as well.

Michael Penn, “A Revival” single, released 28 October. We haven’t heard any new music from Penn in years, so this surprise release hits just that much harder. Extra points for being quite possibly the only rock musician to use the word “commonweal”!

K-DA, All Out EP, released 6 November. I’m finding myself drawn more and more to k-pop and this kind of genre, especially when it’s produced to sound absolutely effing amazing in headphones and speakers. This project could easily be so throwaway, yet the songwriters behind it all keep pushing out such fun sounds!

The Avalanches, We Will Always Love You, released 11 December. This quirky group releases yet another stellar record packed with cameos, guests and unexpected samples, and it’s all sorts of fun.

Paul McCartney, McCartney III, released 18 December. Like 1970’s original and 1980’s II, this is a solo record in the truest sense of the word, done on his own during the pandemic (or “recorded in rockdown”, as the teaser says…). It’s Macca doing what he loves best, experimenting with sounds and soundscapes.

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Thanks for sticking around! We’ll have one more post on Thursday, this one being my end-of-year lists and mixtape track listing!

End of Year Review III

By the middle of the year I was starting to get a little antsy. I’d stopped writing sometime in April on purpose, because I needed to clear my head. Apparently that took a bit longer than usual, as there was a lot in there that needed purging and clearing out. I was lucky enough to be able to a) throw out a lot of preconceptions about my life and my writing that were hindering me, and b) take my time finding out what does work for me. I kept myself busy by figuring out who I was and what I wanted to do from here on in. By the end of the third quarter, I’d rebuilt my whiteboard schedule and started writing again.

The Beths, Jump Rope Gazers, released 10 July. I seem to be drawn to bands from Down Under lately, and this band provided me with a really fun jangly pop record for prime summer listening. They reminded me a lot of the Boston bands I used to listen to in the 90s (and Letters to Cleo in particular).

Taylor Swift, folklore, released 24 July. This was not only a surprise release, it was a surprisingly excellent release that captured the attention of new fans, old fans, and critics alike. It’s some of her best work to date.

The Naked and Famous, Recover, released 24 July. Like many other records released this year, this is more reserved and introspective than their earlier work. The electronics, which are usually a major part of their sound, are pulled far back this time, bringing the inner soul of the songs to the fore.

Fontaines DC, A Hero’s Death, released 31 July. On the other hand, some bands chose to strip away pretense and soft edge and just come out with guns blazing. FDC’s newest is louder, angrier, and a much needed kick in the ass.

Paul McCartney, Flaming Pie (Archive Collection), released 31 July. Sir Macca’s been busy this year! First off is a lovely remaster/expansion of this great album from 1997 that’s equal parts embracing his Beatle past and holding tight to his relationship with Linda.

The Psychedelic Furs, Made of Rain, released 31 July. Their first studio record since 1991 (!!) has a rich, full sound similar to their Book of Days and World Outside records and it’s a welcome return to form.

BRONSON, BRONSON, released 7 August. This one’s on my top ten of the year list! It’s got that laid back electro groove I love (similar to Haelos and Bob Moses) that hits all the right spots. It’s also on my writing session playlist, perfect for my latest projects!

Secret Machines, Awake in the Brain Chamber, released 21 August. I do of course also love the sound of a loud reverb wash just pouring over me, and SM returns with another epic record that just soars everywhere. Another on my writing session playlist!

K/DA, “The Baddest” single, released 27 August. Again: I don’t play League of Legends, nor do I have the time or the brainspace do to so, but damn if their original music doesn’t kick my ass! I loved “Pop/Stars” from a few years back, so I’m thrilled that (G)I-DLE and co. decided to expand on this idea and release a new song, with an EP soon after!

Bob Moses, Desire EP, released 28 August. I do so love the cinematic quality this band projects, which means that they’re always showing up whenever I’m doing some heavy writing work. Give this one a listen with some good earphones and you’ll see why I love them so much.

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Coming up: a return to writing and a final wave of great music!

End of Year Review II

April started with me spending some long overdue time off from any Day Job stress. My last day there had been uneventful and after I logged off, I purged every file and email I’d saved for the last several years, unplugged the laptop, and boxed it up. It was out and dropped off at the post office the next day. If I was going to embrace this freedom, I was going to do it right and with a clean slate.

I did keep my hours, though. I woke up at 6am, showered first and made the morning coffee. I kept busy by house cleaning, doing errands and catching up on long-delayed projects that I wanted to finish (or at least get caught up on). I didn’t start writing again, however. That was another stress purge and process rethink that would take just a little bit longer. But I’d return to it eventually.

And of course I did a lot of listening.

Phish, Sigma Oasis, released 3 April. One of the first rescheduled releases during the early part of the pandemic — the band felt it would benefit their fans to hear new recordings in lieu of a delayed or cancelled tour. It’s one of their most enjoyable and consistently tight records in recent memory.

Local H, Lifers, released 10 April. This band has only gotten better with age. It’s not nearly as angry as 2015’s Hey Killer but it’s just as hard and rocking. Check out the amazing album closer “Innocents”, a rerecording of their 2018 single and produced by king of loud, Steve Albini.

EoB, Earth, released 17 April. Radiohead guitarist Ed O’Brien’s first solo album surprised me as much as it delighted me; I’d expected at least some musical similarity to his main band (there is — it sounds a lot like Hail to the Thief in some spots), but I hadn’t expected him to lean so much on the semi-electronic ambient beats. The result sounds just a little bit like U2’s Zooropa but that’s meant as a compliment, as it’s a pleasure to listen to and get lost in.

Hayley Williams, Petals for Armor, released 8 May. The lead singer of Paramore’s first solo album might be a slightly quieter affair than her band’s hard-edged sound, but the songs are no less powerful. She’s traded volume for tension here and it works brilliantly.

Nation of Language, Introduction, Presence, released 22 May. Taking a page from 80s college rock with its soupy reverb and synth melodies (and thus screaming out this is totally something J would listen to…), it’s a wonderful album worth checking out and getting lost in. Also worth a listen is their recent standalone single, a cover of Pixies’ “Gouge Away”.

Indigo Girls, Look Long, released 22 May. I’ve long been a fan of this duo, and this particular album has to be one of my favorites of theirs. It sounds a bit like their early to mid 90s heyday (circa Swamp Ophelia, mostly) and updated to current sounds and events. It’s just as strong as their classic ’89 self-titled record and definitely one of my favorite releases of the year.

Hinds, The Prettiest Curse, released 5 June. An enjoyable super catchy indie rock record from a foursome from Madrid, Spain, they got some heavy rotation on KEXP during the summer. Also check out their really fun cover of The Clash’s “Spanish Bombs”, which they released later in the year!

GoGo Penguin, GoGo Penguin, released 12 June. One of my favorite finds over the last couple of years, this jazz trio melds alt.rock grooves and techno beats into something altogether different and it sounds glorious.

Wire, 10:20, released 19 June. These guys surprise-dropped an additional album for 2020, this one featuring outtakes from their previous recent releases as well as rerecordings of classic tracks. “Over Theirs” in particular sounds even more menacing than the original.

Phoebe Bridgers, Punisher, released 19 June. She’s been showing up all over the place with other singers lately — with Conor Oberst in Better Oblivion Community Center, as well as with Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker in boygenius — and she’s even recently dropped an additional EP tied in with this release.

Sault, Untitled (Black Is), released 19 June. This curious band is now four albums deep and still nobody really knows who they are, but their records are just fabulous. They’ll swing from experimental to trip-hoppy to soul and pop and back again, never quite staying in one place. One of my favorite finds of the last couple of years!

Hum, Inlet, released 23 June. One of many unexpected and wholly welcome returns to bands after an extremely long hiatus for this year, this 90s favorite vanished sometime around 2000 but resurfaced occasionally for touring purposes until they slowly built up this new release over the course of a few years.

HAIM, Women in Music Pt III, released 26 June. This trio continues with their catchy-as-hell countrified SoCal rock and it’s one of their best. They’ve expanded their sound with a harder edge and even more adventurous production.

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More to come!

End of Year Review, Part I

I’ve said it elsewhere previously, I started 2020 in a terrible mood. I felt lost and frustrated primarily because I’d been corralled back into the office full-time to the Day Job. Between that terrible management decision, the time-wasting commute, and an almost complete loss of personal time for anything outside of work hours, I’d started looking elsewhere for a new job, hopefully in the city, where I could at least retain some of that precious creative time. In the meantime, I brought my mp3 players into work and plugged myself in, and stole time for writing when and where I could.

Funny how a pandemic upended all those issues a few short months later. I mean, ‘careful what you wish for’ and all that… I got my creative time back and then some, but it also derailed so many creative careers and lives as well. Musicians (and venues!) that depended on tours and performances now found themselves having to completely rethink the business side of things. Some went out of business, others got…more creative.

But for those first three months, things were kinda sorta normal, as normal as things could get at that point.

Stabbing Westward, Dead and Gone EP, released 10 January. An unexpected but wholly welcomed return from one of the 90s great melodic alt.metal bands. Still loud af, and still rocking.

Deserta, Black Aura My Sun, released 17 January. I’d been looking forward to this record since hearing the blistering “Hide” on KEXP late last year and I was not let down. It’s the best kind of shoegaze: loud, dense, and dreamlike. This one got a lot of play on my mp3 player at work.

Holy Fuck, Deleter, released 17 January. It amused me every time they played “Luxe” on KEXP, because they could only refer to the band as “Holy Eff”. This electronic band has been around for quite some time, but I’ve only gotten into them recently, and this is a great place to start.

Pet Shop Boys, Hotspot, released 24 January. Man, I remember my high school days when I thought “West End Girls” was such an amazing song. Who’d have thought this duo would stick together for so long and continue to release amazing music? We even got to see them sort-of-live during our last UK trip, when we stayed overnight at a hotel up the road from Hyde Park…where they were putting on a free show that we caught on TV!

Wire, Mind Hive, released 24 January. Another band that’s been around for multiple decades, maintaining their unique sound and remaining strong. I’m still looking forward to seeing their self-made documentary once they finally release it.

Green Day, Father of All…, released 7 February. Right about this time I was driving through the East Bay listening to the car radio and wondering why, when these local boys done good released a new, powerful and supremely fun record, the local alt-rock stations couldn’t be arsed to play anything other than songs off 1994’s Dookie. The title track is such an earworm that it still pops into my head to this day.

Stone Temple Pilots, Perdida, released 7 February. A somber release in response to the loss of two great lead singers, this goes to show that the band had a lot more creativity in them than people expected. The DeLeo brothers write (and sing) some beautiful tearjerkers here.

The Weeknd, After Hours, released 20 March. Fully embracing 80s synthpop and catchy-as-hell tunes, This was a surprise hit and one that crossed so many genres and station programming lines that you can hear “Blinding Lights” pretty much everywhere, including at Trader Joe’s. It’s a strange but really fun record to bop along to.

Pearl Jam, Gigaton, released 27 March. PJ’s later albums can sometimes be great but not quite imprint on your psyche, but this one is a fine return to form for them. It kind of reminds me of 1998’s Yield; both contain a bevy of deep cuts that have shown up on regular rotation on AOR stations.

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By the end of March, things had changed considerably. Mayor London Breed had called a shelter-in-place for San Francisco, numerous companies, shops and restaurants were starting to make long-term plans or shutter temporarily (or for good). A few bands quickly gathered together to stream free or sliding-scale-pay shows on the internet, and some bands even chose to start releasing albums well before their planned drop date. I, of course, had had enough with the Day Job, left on less than cordial terms, and spent the next several months doing a lot of self-discovery and giving my creative career a massive rethink.

New music would still drop, of course, but life wouldn’t be quite the same after the end of March.

A Year of Reissues

While the events of 2020 has put a lot of entertainment on the backburner, even including the regular release schedule of albums, it hasn’t exactly put the kibosh on the usual round of reissues and remasters. These are usually planned well in advance, of course, with most of the remastering production done over the course of the time leading up to it.

Here are a few of my favorites that have dropped this year!

Porcupine Tree, In Absentia (Deluxe Edition), released 28 February. This release of their stellar 2002 record features recent remasters — a day job lead singer/guitarist Steven Wilson has been busy with for the last few years — and numerous demos and rarities.

The The, See Without Beeing Seen, released 27 March. Cassette copies of one of Matt Johnson’s early teenage projects recorded before 1981’s Burning Blue Soul were unearthed, prepped and made widely available for the very first time. It may not be as professional as his later work, you can definitely hear the seeds of his signature style.

Paul McCartney, Flaming Pie (Archive Collection), released 31 July. Paul’s 1997 album was deeply inspired by two things: the Beatles’ Anthology project and his relationship with Linda as she fought cancer. It’s full of lovely classic Macca pop songs and features an abundance of guests such as Ringo, Steve Miller, and Jeff Lynne. This reissue features numerous demos, single sides, and the six-part ‘Oobu Joobu’ radio show he’d put on as part of the album’s promotions.

Prince, Sign ‘o’ the Times (Super Deluxe Edition), released 25 September. I posted about this one earlier, and I can’t say enough about how amazing it is. It somehow manages to fit the remastered 1987 album, the multiple 1986 projects that led up to it, and a full live show.

John Lennon, Gimme Some Truth, released 9 October. This is not so much a ‘greatest hits’ collection but an extended selection of hits, singles and deep tracks, all of which have been remastered with ‘Ultimate Mixes’, and they sound so much clearer than I’ve ever heard them.

The Replacements, Pleased to Meet Me (Deluxe Edition), released 9 October. The Mats’ 1987 record (the first one of theirs I’d bought, by the way) gets the remaster / reissue here with rough mixes and demos. It’s one of their poppier albums and a fun listen.

Elvis Costello, Armed Forces (Super Deluxe Edition), released 6 November. Elvis’ third album was his breakthrough record and remains a fan favorite. There’s not too much new and unreleased in this collection, but it gathers as much related music from the 1978-79 era and drops it in one place, and it sounds great.

What I’ve been listening to, part four

September was one hell of a great month for new releases! So much so that it gets its own post! Here we go…

Tricky, Fall to Pieces, released 4 September. His first record after the death of his daughter is a dark and somber affair, but it’s also about healing from that pain.

Throwing Muses, Sun Racket, released 4 September. It’s indeed a racket, with Kristin Hersh turning up the volume and kicking out some great noisy tunes reminiscent of their early 4AD records.

Doves, The Universal Want, released 11 September. They haven’t released a record in ages, having been on a hyperextended hiatus, but the new album is so worth the wait! They haven’t lost their touch at all.

Cults, Host, released 18 September. This band has a way of merging alternapop sensibilities with experimental sounds, and it works like a charm here.

Sault, Untitled (Rise), released 18 September. As mentioned previously, no one really knows much of anything about this band at all, other than that their output is prolific (this is their fourth album in the span of two years!) and it’s all amazing. Highly recommended.

Semisonic, You’re Not Alone EP, released 18 September. Wait — Semisonic released a new EP?? Dan Wilson is still an amazing songwriter and this is certainly a welcome return!

Bob Mould, Blue Hearts, released 25 September. Oh man, this was the punk album we definitely needed at this point in time. Mould is pissed off and this is the angriest album he’s dropped probably since Black Sheets of Rain.

Prince, Sign ‘o’ the Times Super Deluxe Reissue, released 25 September. I posted about this one previously, and it was well worth the wait. The deep dive into alternative versions, demos, live tracks and unreleased songs will take you a few days, but it’s a fascinating ride.

Idles, Ultra Mono, released 25 September. These guys deliver powerful lyrics and brick-wall noise, but they have a super-strong conscience that they’ve never lost in any of their songs. Also, check out the video for ‘A Hymn’, which shows their softer side by riding along with their parents on a mundane grocery run during the pandemic.

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Whew! Yeah, that was a great month. More tunage to come later in the season!

What I’ve been listening to, part three

Coming back with a few more releases that have been getting some considerable repeat play here in Spare Oom!

BRONSON, BRONSON, released 7 August. A new side project of Odesza and Golden Features, the cool smoothness of this record is perfect both for relaxation and for my writing sessions!

Glass Animals, Dreamland, released 7 August. They’re a quirky band with weird sounds and vocal deliveries, and yet they’re consistently catchy and fun.

Secret Machines, Awake in the Brain Chamber, released 21 August. I had no idea they’d been working on a new record, and it’s just as bold and soaring as their previous releases. And like them, it sounds great when it’s loud!

Cut Copy, Freeze, Melt, released 21 August. This record is a much more chill and laid back affair, but it’s got some of their most gorgeous melodies on it! Another great writing session album!

Bob Moses, Desire EP, released 28 August. This is one of my “I will buy anything they release” bands, and this continuous-mix collection is so worth it. They’ve become one of my go-to bands for many of my recent writing projects!

PVRIS, Use Me, releases 28 August. Another great moody semi-electronic alt-rock band (from Lowell MA!) with a lot of groovy and atmospheric tunes.

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I was going to add more here, but I realized that September is gonna need its own entry (or two) because there was just SO MUCH that came out that I fell in love with! More to come soon!

What I’ve been listening to, part two

Here’s a few more months’ worth of tunes that have been getting play on my PC! Enjoy!

Run the Jewels, RTJ4, released 3 June. When RTJ surprise-dropped their latest record online and let people download it for free for a few days, who was I to pass it up? They’re an interesting rap duo in that they’ll deliver anger and righteousness on one track and further down the playlist have something utterly silly (such as the track “Goonies vs ET”).

Hinds, The Prettiest Curse, released 5 June. This Spanish foursome delivers some super fun rock that slides between shoegaze and pop-punk and is so worth checking out. (Check out their cover The Clash’s “Spanish Bombs” as well, which is a super fun single!)

GoGo Penguin, GoGo Penguin, released 12 June. Still one of my favorite current jazz finds, the trio continues to infuse electronica-style beats into their music, making their songs not just memorable but easy to get lost in.

Wire, 10:20, released 19 June. This is an interesting collection of outtakes and new versions of previous tracks, very similar to their 1989 IBTABA record but with a much harder edge.

Sault, Untitled (Black Is), released 19 June. No one knows who this band is or anything about them other than that they’re a Black collective from the UK, and the group seems to like it that way. They dropped two albums in 2019 and two in 2020, and they are absolutely amazing.

Hum, Inlet, released 23 June. One of the positives of 2020 is that so many fantastic bands we thought were long gone or on an unending hiatus released new records! This is a welcome return from an underrated 90s guitar band.

The Beths, Jump Rope Gazers, released 10 July. A shiny, bouncy and bubbly alt-pop record that hints at some of the best 90s bands like Letters to Cleo, it’s a super fun listen that’ll definitely get you in a good mood!

Fontaines DC, A Hero’s Death, released 31 July. This Dublin punk band delivers a surprisingly dark and melodic record that took quite a few people by surprise. It’s also much tighter and more polished than their previous record.

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More tunage coming next Tuesday!