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.

Fly-By: Songs About Coffee

Hi gang, sorry for pushing another fly-by entry your way, but I’m feeling super distracted this morning and I want to get some writing work done today, so…here, have a recent video from They Might Be Giants, featuring songs about coffee that were apparently planned but mostly unused for a Dunkies ad campaign.

Mmm, coffee.

[PS: Speaking of whom, I recently bought a twelve-pack of a special run of donut-flavored beer put together by Harpoon and Dunkin, featuring Boston Kreme stout, pumpkin, coffee porter, and jelly donut IPA. It’s…actually kind of tasty!]

New Obsession: K/DA

First off, I should say that 1) I’m quite the latecomer to K-Pop. I’ve been well aware of it, but never paid all that much attention to it until relatvely recently, and 2) I am so not a gamer, so I have little to no background or interest in League of Legends.

That said, I cannot seem to get enough of the LoL virtual spinoff band K/DA (its name of course being a reference to a player’s kills, deaths and assists), as a part of Riot Games’ plan to include more original music in the LoL universe. It features Miyeon and Soyeon from the k-pop band (G)I-DLE as well as soloists Madison Beer and Jaira Burns playing the in-game characters Ahri, Akali, Evelynn and Kai-Sa respectively.

The 2018 single “Pop/Stars” came to my attention due to a few gifs of featuring a masked Akali (the tomboyish ninja assassin) rapping in a subway car, and after falling down the YouTube rabbit hole, I found the video and was blown away by the creative animation.

Sure, they’re eye candy for the gamer boys, but damn if this song didn’t get stuck in my head on a daily basis! I’d put it on my mp3 player that I brought to the gym and found myself playing it on repeat. It wasn’t just a great video, it was a damn fine pop song with some tight production work. It sounds absolutely amazing in headphones, so I imagine it would sound great on high-end speakers as well. It ended up on my end-of-year mix and I still throw it on now and again. And yes, it got me interested in (G)I-DLE as well!

League of Legends continued to release a few more tunes and videos to coincide with their World Championship event (2019 saw the badass track “GIANTS” by True Damage, and 2020 featured “Take Over” by Worlds 2020), but apparently the K/DA track proved to be so popular that it was announced they would release more music as a virtual band.

In late August of this year they dropped the news that a new EP would be released, and released the lead single “The Baddest” soon after. And wouldn’t you know, this song got stuck in my damn head as well! While it’s merely a lyric video with minimal animation, it’s still a great track and has already gotten over a million watches on YouTube.

The accompanying EP, All Out, was released this past Friday (11/6) and it features the above song as well as the follow-up single “More”, which returns us to another high quality virtual band setting and featuring another LoL in-game character, Seraphine, as a special guest. It’s another visual feast with all kinds of eye candy but also a lot of fun blink-and-you’ll-miss-it drop edits (such as Akali causing Serpahine to bust up laughing near the end). And just like the previous singles, “More” is a hell of a fine earworm. This one’s going on my year-end mix, of course.

The rest of All Out is just as fun and worth checking out if you have the time!

Favorite bands: The Alan Parsons Project

Well before the band was a not-entirely-hilarious throwaway joke in one of the Austin Powers movies, The Alan Parsons Project — essentially Abbey Road studio boffin Parsons, vocalist Eric Woolfson and a revolving door of session musicians, some of them former members of Pilot — had a solid string of radio hits between the mid-70s to the late 80s. And they were one of my favorite bands of my youth.

I’d discovered them in late 1980 when their album The Turn of a Friendly Card was released, along with the one-two punch of two fantastic singles, “Games People Play” and “Time”. The first centered around a synth loop that got stuck in your head in a good way and had that driving beat and melody kind of similar to Christopher Cross’ “Ride Like the Wind” from earlier that year.

The latter was a gorgeous ballad that must have been played at numerous school dances and senior proms at the time, and was a favorite of mine for years:

I owned an ‘oldies reissue’ single containing both songs and was most likely one of the first non-Beatles-related records I ever owned as a kid. But it wasn’t until 1982 when my older sibling gave me a dubbed copy of their then-new album Eye in the Sky, which received a lot of airplay on many rock stations. It’s a light and poppy record that fits in well with the commercial charts of the time, even with its occasional foray into weird prog nerdiness.

I got caught up for the most part with their next release, which was a greatest hits compilation in 1983. It’s a wonderful collection of singles and album tracks that run the gamut from schmaltzy ballad to amazing pop-prog instrumental to goofy pop inspired by the 1978 King Tutankhamun craze, but it also features a new song that would show up on their next record, signaling a new and more serious direction, “You Don’t Believe”.

The next few albums may not have had the same chart success as their previous records, considering the tendency for their sound to remain firmly in the Adult Contemporary genre, but they still contained some fantastic singles both light and serious. The ELO-like “Don’t Answer Me” from Ammonia Avenue was a chart hit with a humorous animated video that gave a nod to old comic books and pulp novels:

Parsons and band alum Andrew Powell also recorded a fascinating soundtrack for the Matthew Broderick/Michelle Pfeiffer/Rutger Hauer film Ladyhawke in 1985, and you can definitely hear the APP influence.

I actually liked 1985’s Stereotomy as it had a really interesting and spacious mix and was far more prog-rock than their previous records. It didn’t do too well on the charts, but the title song was catchy as hell and had a surprisingly creative video directed by visual artist Zbigniew Rybczyński.

Their last record as the Project, Gaudi, was an odd album centered around the architect, and went over the heads of a lot of people, but it did give them one last great single, “Standing on Higher Ground”.

Parsons and Woolfson went their separate ways soon after. Parsons occasionally released solo records while also returning to production work, including at Abbey Road. Woolfson released two solo records and then work solely in musical theater, and passed away in 2009. Parsons and many of the APP alums still pop up live occasionally!

The Alan Parsons Project may have been a corny joke in a Mike Myers film, but they wrote wonderfully creative pop records, and still have a strong fanbase. Their music still pops up in the most interesting of places — for instance, “Eye in the Sky” has been sampled by electronic group The Avalanches with their new song “Interstellar Love” with Leon Bridges, which dropped just this morning, thus the inspiration for this entry!

Fly-by: Local Music

I’m a little busy today with a few projects, so in the meantime I’ll share a recent find: a band called The Reds, Pinks & Purples. They’re a semi-lofi band that’s not quite shoegaze and not quite dreampop. I’d say they bear a very remarkable resemblance to 80s bedsit-rockers Felt, which is a big plus in my book.

They’re also a local band…so local, they come from my neighborhood! Their latest album You Might Be Happy Someday just dropped a week or so ago and it’s quite lovely, but part of what won me over is the cover, taken on the corner of 5th Ave and Balboa, a little over a mile away from our house! (Their other releases have similar cover pictures of houses and shops in the Richmond District, which I also think is kind of cool!)

Go check ’em out!