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!
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!
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”.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
*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…
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.
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!)
Stay tuned for February’s playlist in a few weeks — looks like there’s some more great records dropping this month!
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)
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”
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.
Thanks for sticking around! We’ll have one more post on Thursday, this one being my end-of-year lists and mixtape track listing!
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.
Coming up: a return to writing and a final wave of great music!
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.