ABBA Returns!

If you haven’t heard already, last week’s huge music news was that everyone’s favorite Swedish pop group from the 70s and 80s has reunited! Not only with one but two new songs, with a new album coming in early November!

So let’s take a quick listen to the two new songs that are already getting airplay and millions of YouTube plays:

“I Still Have Faith in You” is an absolutely lovely ballad that, no lie, actually made me think, Wow, this could be a great solo centerpiece for a jukebox musica– oh. OH. Right. [It took me a moment to remember Bjorn and Benny pretty much instigated the modern stage musical style in the first place with Chess! Heh.] [ANYWAY.] This is my favorite of the two, as it really sets the tone of not only “hey, we’re back!” but “it’s been so long, can we still do this”. And they pull it off PERFECTLY. From the quiet and plaintive beginning to the determined finale with its breathtaking layered vocals, this song is absolutely flawless. And it’s definitely going to be used for stage auditions, no doubt.

The video for this one’s interesting in that it starts off as a chronological montage of the band members from their childhoods to starting the band to their worldwide success. We’re treated to wonderful (and lovingly remastered) footage of backstage preparations, meeting fans, recording in the studio, and even snippets of some of their iconic music videos. And right about 3:30 in, the song breaks down to a quiet solo refrain (“do I have it in me?”), as we see footage of the foursome once again heading towards the stage…only to see what is a stellar use of amazing computer-enhanced imagery, with the foursome on a new stage, singing this new song while appearing as themselves at their commercial peak. This hints at what will be a special London show, where they’ll be performing songs old and new while being motion-captured as their younger selves. It’s extremely joyful and reverent, especially as we realize the song isn’t just about the band themselves but their own fans.

And the other new song, “Don’t Shut Me Down”:

Okay, just in case you’d forgotten this is the ABBA we all know and love, we’re treated to a nice little musical prologue that sets the scene…only to hit us broadside with a piano glissando and a groovy mid-tempo disco beat right out of “Dancing Queen.” This one is proving to be the radio hit due to its more classical pop format, and also that it really does sound like a song from Arrival or The Album. It’s super catchy and danceable and lyrically clever without being a pastiche, further proving just how strong Benny and Bjorn’s songwriting chops truly are.

If these two songs are any indication of what the new album Voyage will sound like, sign me up because I’m already a fan. Well, I’ve been an ABBA fan since I was a kid, having constantly borrowed the albums from my older sister who was an even bigger fan back in the day. [For the record, my favorite album of theirs is Arrival and song is “SOS”. That song just has the most amazing chord progression.] I’m definitely looking forward to it.

Spare Oom Playlist, August 2021 Edition

Taking a break from my mixtape posting shenanigans to bring you a bunch of the tasty new goodness I’ve been listening to over the previous month.

Ty Segall, Harmonizer, released 2 August. Ty is a fascinating musician that pulls off being weird and poppy at the same time. This was an unannounced surprise release recorded during the pandemic, so it’s definitely a bit more muted than his previous records, but just as entertaining.

BLACKPINK, THE ALBUM [JP Version], released 3 August. I don’t follow too many K-Pop bands but this is one I do, and their tunes are all full of sugary fun. This is a Japanese-language version of their 2020 debut.

George Harrison, All Things Must Pass: 50th Anniversary Edition, released 6 August. George’s third solo (and first commercial) album remains one of my top favorite post-breakup albums by the Fabs. This has been getting some sniffy reviews by some of the music blogs, but I have to respectfully disagree with them; the original had been drenched and drowned in that Phil Spector chamber sound and really dated the tracks, and I find the new 2020 Giles Martin mixes to sound infinitely better. They sound so much clearer and brighter now!

Jungle, Loving in Stereo, released 13 August. The band’s third outing is just as funky and groovy as ever. They’ve always kind of reminded me of Daft Punk by way of the Brothers Johnson, and that’s certainly a good thing.

Angel Olsen, Aisles EP, released 20 August. Olsen surprises everyone by lightening her usually rough exterior with a wild left turn into 80s nostalgia, covering five new wave classics. This could have easily been a terrible career idea, but she pulls it of wonderfully with creativity and humor.

The Joy Formidable, Into the Blue, released 20 August. The band continues their noise fest with a strong and solid record that’s been getting some decent play here in Spare Oom over the last week!

Halsey, If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power, released 27 August. This one intrigued me as she’s teamed up with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who’ve been putting out amazing (and often creepy) soundtrack scores together over the last decade or so. Halsey’s soft vocal delivery works perfectly playing off the twitchy Reznor/Ross electronics.

Supergrass, In It for the Money: Deluxe Expanded Edition, released 27 August. Yes, I will always look for a reason to post That Video With Supergrass On Pogo Sticks. I love this record because of its experimentation; they still maintain the punky goofiness of 1995’s I Should Coco but they’re already leaning towards the UK psych rock of their 1999 self-titled album.

CHVRCHES, Screen Violence, released 27 August. A welcome return after an extended hiatus, their latest further explores their darker and stronger sounds and comes up with some amazing aural landscapes. Well worth checking out.

Toad the Wet Sprocket, Starting Now, released 27 August. So wild that this dropped thirty years to the day since their breakthrough album Fear, which got a ton of play on my stereo and Walkman during my college years! They’ve returned with a lovely record and even managed to get none other than Michael McDonald on one of the tracks!

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As I’ve mentioned quite often in the past, September is considered the start of Q4 in the music biz so I’m expecting some super awesome records to come out within the next couple of months. See you soon!

Spare Oom Playlist, July 2021 Edition

OH HEY it’s that time again! Lots of great new tunage came out last month, and here’s some of my favorites!

Inhaler, It Won’t Always Be Like This, released 9 July. The debut from this Dublin band — yes, the lead singer is Bono’s son Elijah — is filled with upbeat alt-rock tunes that remind me of Embrace and later-era Manic Street Preachers.

Tkay Maidza, Last Year Was Weird, Vol 3, released 9 July. Tkay’s music is not quite hip-hop, not quite rap, not quite anything you can easily label, really, but it’s good weird fun in the veins of Tricky and Missy Elliott. [Go check out her great cover of Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind” as well!]

The Goon Sax, Mirror II, released 9 July. What is it with Australian indie bands nowadays? They’re all breaking at once and I’m loving each and every one I hear! This band veers more towards the semi-quiet tones of The XX rather than the Go-Betweens jangle of, say, Quivers, but that’s not a bad thing at all.

Snoh Aalegra, Temporary Highs in the Violet Skies, released 9 July. Groovy, laid back soul grooves and lovely melodies. Thanks to KEXP for bringing my attention her way, as this is one hell of a fine album worth multiple listens.

Yves Tumor, The Asympoptic World EP, released 16 July. Sean Bowie is one seriously eclectic musician, and his records lean somewhere between alt-rock, electronic, and experimental, and yet he manages to lay down some seriously great and memorable tracks.

Ora the Molecule, Human Safari, released 23 July. A very quirky indie band that reminds me of Warpaint’s echoey production and murky 80s college rock, which of course means I was automatically drawn to it, heh.

Piroshka, Love Drips and Gathers, released 23 July. Miki Berenyi (ex-Lush) and KJ ‘Moose’ McKillop arrive with their second album and it’s even dreamier and spookier than the previous record.

Guardian Singles, Guardian Singles, released 30 July. AllMusic.com described this band (oh hey, another Aussie group!) as deeply inspired by early 80s American underground, with hints of Mission of Burma via its ferocity and angularity. No surprise that I was ALL OVER IT in a heartbeat! They definitely have that tense Burma post-punkiness, maybe with a bit of Ride’s shoegaze melodicism added. It’s a short record, but it’s an amazing one! Definitely one of my top picks of the month.

Yola, Stand for Myself, released 30 July. Another soul-inflected record that reminds me a lot of that mid-90s wave of singers like Dionne Farris and Tasmin Archer, and it’s fantastic. “Stand for Myself” is one hell of a fine earworm and will definitely be on my year-end list.

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Whew! I actually had to pare this down, as there were a TON of great records that came out last month! These were just the ones getting heavy airplay here in Spare Oom. Hope you enjoy them!

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, June 2021 Edition, Part I

Back again with another edition of new tunage popping up on my PC, and this time it’s a two-parter. June was absolutely chock full of fantastic singles and albums. There’s quite the mix here, some recorded pre-pandemic and some post (and some during it all!), and a lot of it feels refreshing, vibrant, and worth the long wait.

CHVRCHES featuring Robert Smith, “How Not to Drown” single, released 4 June. The band itself sounds refreshed, strong and confident. Really looking forward to the rest of this album!

James, All the Colours of You, released 4 June. This feels like a surprisingly cheerful album, more so than some of their previous records. It’s also much quieter than previous as well, but that just adds to a pleasurable listen.

Wolf Alice, Blue Weekend, released 4 June. The band returns after a four year wait with an album that sounds so unlike their previous two records…and yet retains their signature powerful sound. At times it’s dark and echoey like a Cocteau Twins album, only to follow up with a gritty, grungey pop anthem or two. It’s weird, it’s moody, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

Crowded House, Dreamers Are Waiting, released 4 June. Neil Finn and Co are back with a new CH album that interestingly sounds a lot like a Split Enz album! While there are many wonderful Aussie pop tunes here that Finn is known for, the record is tempered with a quirkiness that hints at his old 80s band. Still an amazing songwriter after all these years!

Japanese Breakfast, Jubilee, released 4 June. Michelle Zauner has been having a hell of a great summer, what with her memoir Crying in H Mart fast becoming a critic and reader favorite, and dropping her third record as JB right around the same time. It’s full of wonderful catchy pop, and “Be Sweet” has definitely been an earworm here in Spare Oom. Well worth checking out!

New Candys, Vyvyd, released 4 June. A gritty alternative band from Venice, Italy, they channel the groovier parts of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club with their bluesy riffs and echoey vocals and come up with something that’s equal parts gritty and psychedelic. I may have thrown this record on repeat once or twice during my writing sessions, and that doesn’t happen that often!

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….and that was just the first week!! We’ll return again on Thursday for Part II!

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!

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!

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 SaoĆ»t) 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!