Twenty Years On: 2001, Part II

Easing into Q2 of 2001 here, I had my Wednesday errand down to a science: log out of work at 3pm, head down Route 116 from Sunderland to Hadley to pick up my comics at Hampshire Mall, then drive into the center of Amherst, park at the central common, and walk over to Newbury Comics (which was across from the Town Hall at the time), where I’d buy that week’s new releases and maybe a box of Pocky and some blank tapes for mixtape purposes. It was my way of relaxing after a long day of moving boxes.

We had a relatively tight team at YC. A good portion of us were smokers at the time and would head out to the back picnic table near the rear truck drivers’ entrance — this was before all the smoking bans went into effect, so as long as we weren’t directly in front of the door, no one seemed to mind. Bruce and I used to hang out there chatting about music and other things while WHMP played over the loudspeaker above the door. The job itself was hard work, but at the time we all enjoyed it, especially since we were now in a HUGE shipping department three times the size of the one we’d been at previously.

Plunderphonics, 69 Plunderphonics 96, released 3 April 2001. I think this predated the mashup craze by a year or so, if I’m not mistaken. It initially intrigued me because it’s on Seeland, Negativland’s label, so it had to be weird and experimental in a really fun way. John Oswald’s aural experiments aren’t for everyone, but they’re often clever and sometimes hilarious. This particular track is twenty-four versions of Richard Strauss’ opening to “Also Sprach Zarathustra” played at once and turning into a slurry mess that, ironically, sounds like the Ligeti piece played during the headtrip light show near the end of 2001.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, BRMC, released 3 April 2001. Bluesy, shoegazey, and just amazing. I’d been intrigued considering the lead singer was the son of Michael Been (the lead singer of The Call, an 80s band I loved). It’s an album that should be played loud.

Skindive, Skindive, released 3 April 2001. I mentioned this band a few posts ago. It’s a pity they disappeared as quickly as they arrived, because they were fantastic! They captured the ferocity of Curve and the sexiness of Garbage, and even had a bit of the musical nerdiness of Failure. I still pull this one out and give it a spin now and again.

Stereophonics, Just Enough Education to Perform, released 17 April 2001. A band that has more of a following in the UK than here, this is a super moody but wonderful album that took them in a much darker and louder direction. “Mr. Writer” is such a great eff-you to their music critics that like the sound of their own voice more than the music they reviewed.

Elbow, Asleep in the Back, released 7 May 2001. An auspicious beginning for a band that would consistently release brilliant and beautiful music over the next two decades. Their debut is a quiet and meandering affair compared to later albums but no less amazing. They remain an “I will buy anything they release” band for me!

Tool, Lateralus, 15 May 2001. “Schism” was the bassline of the summer, felt like. I’d hear this on the hard rock stations, MTV, the alt.rock stations, and even on the college stations. I heard the song everywhere. They’re a band that tend to have a lifetime between releases, but this was well worth the wait.

Stabbing Westward, Stabbing Westward, released 22 May 2001. A 90s band I’d always enjoyed. They had that NIN blizzard of sound and anger to their music just like a lot of alt.metal bands, but they pulled it off with consistently amazing tracks. This album got a lot of play in the Belfry during my writing sessions! Also one of the loudest bands I’d ever seen live.

Radiohead, Amnesiac, released 4 June 2001. The second, moodier and creepier half of Radiohead’s strange foray into experimentalism, this one doesn’t quite stand up as well as Kid A does for me, but it does have its great moments.

The Cult, Beyond Good and Evil, released 22 June 2001. I’d always been a fan of this band but never quite got around to acquiring their albums for ages. I finally started with this one when it came out, and I was not let down. It’s HEAVY AF and loud as hell, and I love it. This one also made it through multiple plays during Belfry writing sessions!

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More to come!

One and done

Just listening to a few albums by bands that dropped one album and then…who knows what happened? But they’re great albums!

TKTTSM, TKTTSM, released 16 October 2012

Shaï nO Shaï, Human Condition, released 26 August 1997

LHOOQ, LHOOQ, released 3 August 1998

Skindive, Skindive, released 3 April 2001

…and of course one of my all-time favorites:

The La’s, The La’s, released 1 October 1990

Spare Oom Playlist, June 2021 Edition, Part II

Part II of June’s playlist is just as solid, and I had to leave a few out so I wouldn’t overburden you with far too many videos! Heh. Enjoy!

Danny Elfman, Big Mess, released 11 June. Elfman returns not with yet another soundtrack or a classical album but an actual rock album, his first one since 1984’s So-Lo. And just as you’d expect from him, it’s weird, off-kilter, and absolutely brilliant.

King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, Butterfly 3000, released 11 June. It took me several albums to get into this weird psych rock band, but thanks to constant airplay on KEXP, I’ve grown to really enjoy them.

Quivers, Golden Doubt, released 11 June. I’ve been waiting for this record for months now, and it was so worth the wait. Full of their wonderful light jangle pop and intelligent songwriting that hints quite heavily on a Go-Betweens influence. It’s a sweet album you should definitely check out.

Garbage, No Gods No Monsters, released 11 June. Every time I listen to this record I think this is the Version 2.0 that I would have liked better. There’s a lot of synth and tech going on with these songs that’s similar to that second album from the late 90s, but they’re bolstered by the trademark heavy guitar crunch they’re known for. It’s kind of a weird, off-kilter record but it’s fascinating.

Eve 6, Grim Value EP, released 25 June. The last we saw this band was their 2012 album Speak in Code, so it was a surprise to see them resurface with a newer, grittier sound that shifts further away from what we’re used to. The tracks here are grittier, sometimes even leaning towards industrial in places, but they pull it off perfectly.

Lucy Dacus, Home Video, released 25 June. So glad to see her return! Historian was an amazing album and this one is just as great. She’s an amazing songwriter and she rarely ever holds back in subject matter (fan favorite “Thumbs” is…well, you just have to hear it.). I highly recommend pretty much anything she releases, including her work with boygenius.

Sault, NINE, released 25 June. Better hurry up and snag this from their bandcamp site, as this one’s only available for a limited time! (It’s only available for 99 days, which means you have until 10/2 to get it.) Still no idea who is in this band, but they’ve once again dropped a brilliant record of bluesy riffs and dancy beats.

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Hope you enjoyed those! And by the looks of it, there’s some great stuff coming out this month as well that’s already getting some repeat play here in Spare Oom. See you then!

Spare Oom Playlist, May 2021 Edition

What’s this, you say? Am I returning to blogging twice a week again? Maaaaybe? Gonna try it out again and see how it pans out.

ANYWAY! A few weeks late here, but there’s my playlist for May, in which I’m surprised by unexpected new releases by classic bands, pleased by new albums of recent favorites, and of course a few great new finds!

Hooverphonic, Hidden Stories, released 7 May. Wait, new Hooverphonic? Sweet! New album with the return of their most popular singer Geike Arnaert? EXCELLENT! And I had no idea they were also a Eurovision entry! This album definitely sounds like their early 00’s albums like The Magnificent Tree and Jackie Cane, and I love it!

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, When God Was Great, released 7 May. These guys have been bopping along for decades now, and they’re still fantastic. They still sound like they did back in my Boston days!

Morcheeba, Blackest Blue, released 14 May. Another band that’s been around since the 90s, and they’re still amazing with their laid back grooves and Skye’s quiet, sultry vocals. This is a great chillwavey album perfect for relaxing to.

Fightmilk, Contender, released 14 May. I’m glad I follow KeithTOTP on Twitter (yes, his stage name is Keith Top of the Pops…he produced Art Brut’s first couple of singles and is buddies with AB’s Eddie Argos — both of them are hilarious and complete nutters), as he’s been hinting at this new Fightmilk album for a while now. And it’s worth the wait because it’s REALLY good! Kind of late-90s Britpoppy (don’t tell him I said that). Definitely worth checking out.

Art d’Ecco, “That’s Entertainment” single, released 19 May. Art d’Ecco is kind of hard to pin down; she’s kind of brash like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but with the bloopy disco-y dance of LCD Soundsystem. Purely retro and yet not…? Either way, she dropped a wonderful spot-on cover of one of The Jam’s best songs.

Ducks Ltd, Get Bleak, released 21 May. Jangly lo-fi alternapop hinting at early eras of The Church and the Go-Betweens? Of course I couldn’t pass this one up! This is the sound of 80s college radio for me, to be honest. It’s a wonderful mini-album, and I’m looking forward to more.

Gary Numan, Intruder, released 21 May. Numan continues in the NIN-style industrial sound that he’s mastered over his last few albums, and it’s a perfect fit for his bleak dystopian style.

CHAI, WINK, released 21 May. This foursome from Nagoya, Japan has evolved in such odd ways yet they remain catchy and poppy as ever. The new record veers much closer to light electronic grooves than their previous more punky sounds, but they’re still just as off-kilter fun.

Bachelor, Doomin’ Sun, released 28 May. A project between Ellen Kempner of Palehound and Jay Som, this is an irresistible alt-pop gem. “Stay in the Car” has been an earworm for me lately, thanks to KEXP!

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Okay! Now that I’m somewhat caught up, hopefully I’ll be able to give you June’s playlist on time in a few weeks! Stay tuned!

Deep Dive

I’ve been doing a deep dive into 80s music lately.

I’m shocked, SHOCKED! I hear you say, not bothering to hide your eyeroll. But this is different, honest! I mean, sure, I’ve been listening to some of my old mixtapes and radio tapes, primarily because of a few writing projects I’m working on, but instead of doing the usual dive into records that have a bit of a long history to them, I’m playing around with records I remember seeing in the bins back in the day that have kind of been forgotten.

Not the “forgotten” bands that were really one-hit-wonders, or “obscure” bands that actually get a lot of airplay on certain genre stations. (And on the other side of the spectrum, I’m not yet at the “outsider” musicians that are just a bit too weird and impenetrable for my current tastes. I’m getting there, though.) I’m talking about the ones that I distinctly remember hearing on college radio and seeing their videos on 120 Minutes.

I’m talking about bands like the Jean-Paul Sartre Experience…

…or Gaye Bykers On Acid…

…or Fetchin Bones…

The funny thing is that many of these bands were the ones where I could never find their records, or never got around to buying them for budgeting reasons, or that I didn’t want to chance it if I didn’t exactly like it. I’m coming across a lot of them and checking out their grainy ripped-from-videotape music videos on YouTube. A lot of them are bands where I’d said I’d check them out sooner or later because I’d been hyperfocused on other obsessions…and I’m now realizing that I’ve finally come to the “later” part of that equation.

Some of these bands have stood the test of time, or are definitely a time capsule of a specific style. Some of them have not aged well at all (there’s one comic-punk band I used to like, but now sound like those one-joke pastiches you’d hear on those “irreverent” (read: tasteless bro humor) Morning Drive radio shows). They’re the bands that haven’t had as much of the Old Wave Renaissance play on satellite radio, but they’re the bands music nerds like me will remember.

What am I getting out of this? Well, aside from expanding my soundtracks and playlists, they’re filling some much-neglected holes in my personal history of listening to college radio. And as I’d hoped and expected, they’re also bringing back some memories I’d long forgotten. They’re putting the music history (and my own history) in a much richer context, that 80s college radio wasn’t just about The Cure and Depeche Mode and Wire and REM, but about the smaller bands and scenes that popped up. The music from different parts of the country — or the globe — that had a small but sizeable fanbase of their own. The music that may have somehow made its way onto major labels, but for the most part felt right at home on the independents.

And let me tell you, I’ve been having a hell of a fun time with it all!

Spare Oom Playlist, April 2021 Edition

Thanks for waiting! As promised, here’s the playlist for last month’s tunage!

Various Artists, Bills & Aches & Blues (40 Years of 4AD), released 2 April. A compilation of current 4AD bands doing covers of the label’s most popular tracks? How could I even possibly think of passing this up? Heh. Surprisingly this compilation works super well, giving many of the already quirky songs an even quirkier sound. Well worth checking out.

Flock of Dimes, Head of Roses, released 2 April. Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak’s side project returns with a fantastic, noisy and even bluesy album full of great sounds and earworm melodies. “Price of Blue” gets some heavy play here in Spare Oom.

Dry Cleaning, New Long Leg, released 2 April. A relatively new 4AD signing and a great fit for said label…just this side of eccentric yet extremely enticing. You’re not entirely sure what vocalist Florence Shaw is going on about half the time, but her sultry mumble fits the jerkiness of the music just perfectly.

Brian Vander Ark, Planet Sunday Sessions Vol II, released 5 April. The Verve Pipe lead singer has been extremely busy as of late — uploading YouTube videos, keeping up with weekly Patreon posts, and even working on a new TVP album — he’s also dropped his second covers album, a curious selection of classics with a darker edge.

CLAMM, Beseech Me, released 9 April. A super young punk band from Melbourne that blows the doors off so many others nowadays (save maybe IDLES, who utilize a similar face-punching delivery), and I love it. Short, brutal, and noisy AF, just how I love it.

The Reds, Pinks & Purples, Uncommon Weather, released 9 April. Yes, it’s the super-local (my side of town) SF band with a new record! While the previous album leaned towards the softer melodic Felt-like sounds, here he’s moving a bit more towards the lo-fi jangle of early Luna.

London Grammar, Californian Soul, released 16 April. This is a band that’s kind of tough to describe other than perhaps a cross between the moodiness of Florence + the Machine and the synth sounds of bands like Small Black. A very atmospheric and beautiful sounding album!

Field Music, Flat White Moon, released 23 April. This highly melodic band is a perfect example of sneaking into your space and making you stop and say ‘who is this…?’ They’re alternately dreamlike, sometimes jazzy and eclectic, and never dull. I’ve been coming back to this one a lot lately.

Dinosaur Jr, Sweep It Into Space, released 23 April. Perhaps it’s the fact that the pandemic has closed so many recording studios, but it’s somehow managed to turn this band’s clock back to its clunky, boxy lo-fi origins, and I am not complaining at all. This record would sit quite nicely right around Green Mind or You’re Living All Over Me, and I love it.

Beachy Head, Beachy Head, released 30 April. A mash-up side project with members of Slowdive and Flaming Lips, you’d think it would be a weird pairing, but it works amazingly well! It’s a dreamlike psychedelia that’s a lot of fun to listen to.

Dropkick Murphys, Turn Up That Dial, released 30 April. These guys entered the pandemic with an amazing and memorable free streaming concert, and they’re leaving it with a new album filled with many of the then-unreleased songs, including the absolutely hilarious “Mick Jones Nicked My Pudding”.

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There were definitely more (a lot more) albums that came out in April that I didn’t mention here due to space, but yeah, that was definitely a solid month for releases! And with it being almost the end of May, there’s even more great tunage to come!

Favorite Albums: INXS, Welcome to Wherever You Are

For some people, INXS was that band that kind of slid into semi-obscurity after the mega-huge multimillion-selling album Kick from 1987. They followed up in 1990 with X which contained a few hits such as “Suicide Blonde”, “Disappear” and “Bitter Tears”, but they never quite hit the same heights after that ’87 album. By the early 90s they were an 80s rock band trying to compete with the oncoming 90s alternative rock wave.

In late summer of 1992, they released what I think is their best 90s album, Welcome to Wherever You Are, and it’s often one that get the least attention of their later career. It’s a band growing out of their old sounds and styles and trying out new things.

The album was preceded by a teaser single, “Heaven Sent”, which features the band sounding gritty, playing loud and loose, the complete antithesis of the glossy tracks on X. Back in my college days, Boston’s alt-rock station WFNX picked up on it and gave it a decent rotation as it fit in nicely with their current playlist of grunge, Britpop and late post-punk. The follow-up single in the UK and Australia was the groovy singalong “Baby Don’t Cry” which also received local airplay here in the States.

Welcome to Wherever You Are is all over the place, but that’s a part of its charm. The production also has a distinctly early-90s quality to it, heavy on the treble and distortion for maximum loudness. There’s the bouncy New Jack beat of “Baby Don’t Cry” as well as the funky Madchester beat of the US follow-up single “Not Enough Time”, which is my favorite track off the album. It’s got a laid back mid-tempo groove and a smooth delivery that makes you want to move. (It’s also got a fantastic slow build to a glorious coda, and you know how much I love those.)

They didn’t completely ignore their own tried-and-true styles, however. Even with the tense beats and trippy feel of “Taste It” (complete with video that most definitely did not get airplay on MTV in the US due to its, er, sexiness), there were hints of the classic INXS seeping through. The gorgeous ballad “Beautiful Girl” (featuring backing vocal from none other than U2’s Bono) could have fit anywhere on their last three albums and really should have been a hit single for them.

[Side note: I will always equate this song with the radio commercial for Cambridge Soundworks that WFNX used to play in late ’92 into ’93, which used the instrumental opening as its music bed.]

Interestingly, one of the downfalls of this album — aside from it being from an 80s band and released during the initial relentless wave of Nirvana, Metallica, Soundgarden, and all the other grunge and metal favorites of all the bros out there — was that they chose not to tour for this album. Instead they would let the singles run the course while working on the follow-up album, 1993’s Full Moon, Dirty Hearts. That particular album went further in the direction of attempting new sounds to fit in with current styles, but alas did not quite nail the landing; it’s got some fantastic singles (“The Gift” is a powerhouse track that demands top volume, and “Please (You Got That…)” is great bluesy fun with Ray Charles duetting) but overall it feels a bit disjointed and out of place. Despite this, they’d continue touring and releasing a greatest hits compilation, but not re-emerging with anything new until 1997’s Elegantly Wasted, which was a fine return to form but unfortunately their swan song with Michael Hutchence, who died later that year.

All told, listening back to this album now, Welcome to Wherever You Are is truly a fantastic album that just happened to be out of place with everything surrounding it, including the rest of the band’s discography. Some of its singles do still get airplay now and again, but more often than not you’ll hear something from Listen Like Thieves or Kick instead. It’s a deep-cut kind of album that really deserves another listen.

Spare Oom Playlist, March 2021 Edition

Thanks for waiting! As promised, here’s my list of new tunage that’s been rumbling through my speakers as of late. It was a quietish month for the most part, as the March release calendar usually is, but it contained some quality music that I’m sure I’ll be listening to by the end of the year.

Jane Weaver, Flock, released 5 March. This is a peculiar yet catchy album that I keep coming back to. It kind of reminds me a bit of St Vincent, only with a bit more of a Stereolab synth studio-boffin approach.

Barbarossa, Love Here Listen, released 5 March. Speaking of synth bloopiness, this is another one that popped up and stuck in my head during my writing sessions.

Ghost of Vroom, 1, released 19 March. For those of you who loved Soul Coughing back in the day, this band is for you. Mike Doughty has returned to his oddball poetry rap over funky riffs and quirky samples (thus the band name, hinting at the SC debut Ruby Vroom) and it’s a hell of a lot of fun. It’s hard not to listen to this album without grooving along! This one’s definitely going to get a lot of listening here in Spare Oom! [Side note: Doughty prefaced this album in December with a three-track EP fittingly entitled 2. That one has a track called “Rona Pollona” that’s been getting some airplay on KEXP.]

Too Much Joy, Mistakes Were Made, released 19 March. I’ve been following TMJ’s singer Tim Quirk on Twitter and he’s always a lot of fun (he just wrapped up a super-long Tumblr post series called “5-Star Songs” that was wonderful), and I’m happy to say that his band’s first new record in years is a corker. They still retain their goofy sense of humor — their deep-fake video above for “Uncle Watson Wants to Think” is both creepy and hilarious — but they’ve also tempered it with some serious moments as well.

Middle Kids, Today We’re the Greatest, released 19 March. I’m still not quite sure where to file this one, as it seems to shift between mellow bedroom pop and bouncy indie rock, but it’s fascinating and I keep coming back to it during my writing sessions!

Ringo Starr, Zoom In EP, released 26 March. Still going strong after all these years, Ringo brings out his classic cheerful, positive sound once more, once again with a little help from his friends.

Siamese Youth, Echoes of Tomorrow, released 26 March. A recent find that is of course right in my wheelhouse. It’s light and fun, and self-consciously so, and that’s part of its charm. It’s a feel-good album meant to be enjoyed and lift your spirits. It’s up there with The Sound of Arrows as a record perfect for my writing sessions!

Fitz, Head Up High, released 26 March. The Tantrums’ lead singer drops a solo album that sounds like it easily could have been a FatT record, but it focuses much more on his poppier side and less so on the groove. It’s an interesting shift, but it works just fine.

UNKLE, Ronin I Mixtape, released 26 March. I will of course download any and all UNKLE music. This one is James Lavelle’s project of reworking some previously released tracks and creating new ones, also while revisiting the sound experiments of Psyence Fiction and Never Never Land that initially made the group’s name.

tUnE-yArDs, sketchy., released 26 March. Merrill Garbus returns with a record that may not be as off-kilter as WHOKILL but definitely contains that fascinating oddness the band is known for. It’s got some great radio-friendly tracks as well, such as “Nowhere, Man” and the above.

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Not bad for what’s usually a slow month! I’m looking forward to more in April, in which we’ll see some classic reissues, a few new platters from bands we haven’t heard in a while, and some long-awaited titles that have teased us for a few months!

Spare Oom Playlist, February 2021 Edition

Normally, February does provide one with some new and interesting sounds, but I’m well surprised that this time out there’s an avalanche of good stuff out there! Enjoy!

Miss Grit, Impostor EP, released 5 February. “Blonde” popped up on Cheryl Waters’ playlist on KEXP a while back and stopped me in my tracks with a whoa, what the hell is this? It’s got the grimness of Sneaker Pimps-like triphop, the droneyness of Lush, and the blast of shoegaze. She only has a few singles and this EP out at the moment, but I highly suggest checking her out on Bandcamp.

Foo Fighters, Medicine at Midnight, released 5 February. Dave Grohl and Co return to a lighter and more melodic sound similar to their late 90s/early 00s albums There Is Nothing Left to Lose and One By One, though still retaining the power and strength of their more recent albums, and it’s a supremely inviting and memorable listen.

Teenage Wrist, Earth Is a Black Hole, released 12 February. A recent find thanks to AllMusic, they’ve got that excellent melodic emo sound similar to bands like Jimmy Eat World, with catchy riffs and the classic punchy choruses.

Django Django, Glowing in the Dark, released 12 February. Always a weird and quirky band, always full of incredible pop gems that sound both polished and lo-fi at the same time. This is truly a fun listen.

Goat Girl, On All Fours, released 12 February. Apparently picking up where Chairlift left off, this group mixes a warbly synth/guitar hybrid with odd lyrics and sounds and turns it into something surprisingly catchy and fun. I’ve been listening to this one quite a bit during my recent writing sessions.

Pale Waves, Who Am I?, released 12 February. Snotty, fun pop-punk that’s perfect to listen to on long and frustrating days. Sometimes goofy, sometimes angry, but it’s definitely a joy.

Mogwai, As the Love Continues, released 19 February. They’ve come a long way from their extended drone-blast days, and numerous movie scores have definitely tamed their sound somewhat, but they’ve only gotten better and grander with age. (Plus I hear they hit number one on the UK charts with this record recently!) This one is already a writing session staple, of course.

Nick Cave & Warren Ellis, Carnage, released 25 February. Cave and Ellis, who usually work together for movie scores, surprise-released their first studio-only project and it’s a dark and gorgeous masterpiece. It’s some of the saddest and quietest music Cave has ever done, but it’s absolutely beautiful.

Back Garden Light, Back Garden Light, released 26 February. I somehow stumbled upon this and I keep coming back to it. It fully and shamelessly embraces that 311/POD/Lit funk-metal-emo groove and it’s all kinds of fun! (Extra points for clever and unexpected use of 8-bit bleeps and beats to keep the mood light!)

Lost Horizons, In Quiet Moments, released 26 February. The second outing from Simon Raymonde (former Cocteau Twin) and drummer Richard Thomas (ex-Dif Juz) is just as lovely and moving as 2017’s Ojala, if not more so. There is definitely a heavy old school 4AD influence here (“Every Beat That Passed” sounds shockingly like Cocteau Twins circa Treasure) but they’ve made it their own sound and it’s just lovely.

Cloud Nothings, The Shadow I Remember, released 26 February. Their latest record, released only two months after their previous record (December 2020’s Life Is Only One Event) and less than a year after the one before it (July 2020’s The Black Hole Understands), this band has been incredibly busy — and prolific — despite the barriers that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused.

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*Whew* …and that was only a handful of what came out last month…!! I’m still wrapping my head around a lot of these releases, but there’s a lot to choose from and they’re all amazing. Now I’m curious as to how the next couple of months will be…

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!