Yes, believe it or not, I am not just listening to Belfry-era albums while writing! In fact, I’ve got a lot of relatively new tunes playing as well! Here’s a smattering of what’s on rotation here in Spare Oom…
The Tubs, Dead Meat, released 27 January. This is totally something I’d have listened to back in the late 80s-early 90s. It’s got that post-punk jangliness I loved at the time (The Church, IRS-era REM, and so on), plus its lyrics are very of that time (and very much similar to those of my band The Flying Bohemians). Thanks to KEXP — again — for introducing me to this great London band!
Belle & Sebastian, Late Developers, released 13 January. It’s essentially leftovers from the band’s 2022 album A Bit of Previous but they stand extremely well on their own. It’s a super fun listen and kind of sounds like a successful mix of their folkier early sound and their poppier later years.
Everything But the Girl, “Nothing Left to Lose” single, released 13 January. Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt are back as EBTG after far too many years and they haven’t missed a beat. This is a stellar song and I’m eagerly awaiting their new album Fuse, which should drop mid-April.
New Order, Low-Life (Definitive), released 27 January. For some reason I always skipped over this album when I listened to this band back in the day, preferring Brotherhood instead, but giving this one a new listen recently has made me realize just how flipping great it is! However, as I’d mentioned to a friend earlier, it occurred to me that this is a stellar album marred by songs being in the wrong key; not that Bernard Sumner is out of tune (he tends to waver sometimes, which I’m used to), but that these songs are so out of his range, as he really strains on some tunes like “Sunrise”. Still, great album!
파란노을 (Parannoul), After the Magic, released 28 January. Noisy shoegaze from South Korea? Of course I’ll give it a listen! You guessed it — another band introduced to me by KEXP. They’re definitely reminiscent of Ride, with songs that sound like light bursts and unassuming vocals that insert themselves perfectly into the melodies.
Dave Rowntree, Radio Songs, released 20 January. The debut from Blur’s drummer is intriguing in that it’s quite moody and mellow but also reveals who might have been behind some of Blur’s more quieter and more introspective songs as well.
For your listening enjoyment, here’s my year-end mixtape! As expected, this one’s a bit all over the place and I’m sure I’m missing a few songs I should have put in there, but I think it still came out pretty well.
To be honest, it kind of mirrors my current status in life: all sorts of nonsense going on in the world, most of which is out of my control, but on the other hand I think I’ve managed to control what I can in my life, and that’s what really matters.
The title comes from the Cheekface song “We Need a Bigger Dumpster” which may not have been my top song of the year (that’s Hot Chip’s “Down”, firmly sitting as Track 5 as always), but it fits perfectly considering.
Hope you enjoy!
I’ll admit I didn’t have the time or the inclination to go into super detail with the end-of-year lists this year, so I will at least provide you with my top favorite albums. You can safely assume that nearly all of my favorite songs of 2022 made it to the above playlist, with a few exceptions!
TOP ALBUMS (listed chronologically with top favorite in bold)
Yard Act, The Overload The Beatles, Get Back: The Rooftop Performance The Reds, Pinks & Purples: Summer at Land’s End Spoon, Lucifer on the Sofa White Lies, As I Try Not to Fall Apart Beach House, Once Twice Melody Nilüfer Yanya, PAINLESS Bob Moses, The Silence in Between PLOSIVS, PLOSIVS Wet Leg, Wet Leg Hatchie, Giving the World Away Warpaint, Radiate Like This Dubstar, Two Porcupine Tree, CLOSURE / CONTINUATION Röyksopp, Profound Mysteries I, II and III The Beths, Expert in a Dying Field Alvvays, Blue Rev PVA, BLUSH The Beatles, Revolver Super Deluxe Edition The Cure, Wish 30th Anniversary Edition
December’s releases were mostly rereleases with a few new albums sprinkled here and there, but those reissues weren’t merely cash-grabs but collections worth picking up and checking out. There were a lot of them this year, weren’t there…? Anyway, this one’s going to be a bit short as well because of that.
Voice of the Beehive, Let It Bee (Remastered & Expanded), released 2 December. One of my favorite albums of 1988, it finally sees a major reissue with several b-sides, single versions and live tracks added. It’s a super fun album full of sassy pop gems. [Music trivia: yes, that’s Woody from Madness on drums! Bedders was also part of the band at one point too!]
Robbie Williams, Life Thru a Lens (25th Anniversary), released 2 December. US listeners might know half these songs better as part of his American compilation The Ego Has Landed, but this is the original UK source album. This was his first peak period with hit singles such as the ubiquitous “Angels”. This too has been reissued with numerous b-sides and live tracks.
Hot Hot Heat, Make Up the Breakdown (Deluxe Remastered), released 2 December. Another reissue of a 2002 album that got heavy play in the Belfry during my writing sessions. “Bandages” was one of my favorites of the year as well, and still pops into my head now and again.
The Reds, Pinks & Purples, Mountain Lake Park, released 2 December. Glenn Donaldson’s output this year has been quite extensive, and with this one — named after a small park here in the Richmond that I’ve walked through many times! — is full of lovely instrumentals recorded around the same time as this year’s Summer at Land’s End (and originally released as a vinyl-only bonus record with that one). And he also dropped a new EP on the 23rd, Dust in the Path of Love.
Paul McCartney, The 7″ Singles box set, released 2 December. A full 159 tracks spanning his entire solo career and containing several rarities such as non-album sides, single edits and international versions. This one’s less about the remixes and all about the original songs.
Leftfield, This Is What We Do, released 2 December. This group sneaks out an album at the end of the year of laid back electropop I love the best: the kind that gets me moving but I can also listen to while chilling out.
The Clockworks, “Blood On the Mind” single 9 December. Yet another single by this great band, this one sounds a bit like early Smiths with its bouncy Johnny Marr-like jangle, but it sounds just as tough as any of their previous singles. I see nothing but success for these lads!
Roger Waters, The Lockdown Sessions, released 9 December. The eternally grumpy Waters released an EP of reworks of his classic songs from both Pink Floyd and solo albums, including an extremely moody reworking of “Comfortably Numb” that gives the original a run for its money.
…and that’s it for the year! Come back tomorrow for my year-end mixtape and best-of lists!
In true Q4 fashion, November contained some new releases but far more box sets and rereleases: Ride’s 4 EPs, Spice Girls’ Spiceworld, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, The Fall’s 1970s, David Bowie’s Divine Symmetry, Erasure’s Erasure, Sparks’ No 1 in Heaven, and the Flaming Lips’ Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots just to name a few. I’ve only mentioned a few here that were of deep personal interest.
SAULT, 11, AIIR, Earth, Today & Tomorrow, and Untitled (God), released 1 November. The mercurial British collective surprises everyone with not just one but five new albums, full of spiritualism, faith and positivity.
Phoenix, Alpha Zulu, released 4 November. I didn’t even know they were coming out with a new record until I heard “Tonight” popping up on satellite radio during our last vacation! I haven’t quite had the time to listen to this too much, but what I have heard I really like.
Seal, Seal [Deluxe Edition], released 4 November. I’ve mentioned this before that this feels more like a Trevor Horn-featuring-Seal album (I prefer his second album to this one), but “Crazy” remains one of my all-time favorite 90s songs. The remaster gives this record a much-needed warmth that was lacking in the original mix.
Fitz & the Tantrums, Let Yourself Free, released 11 November. Another band best heard (and seen) live, they’ve weathered the pandemic and are back with a new and fun album that gets you moving. We’ll be seeing them early next year!
Various Artists, Life Moves Pretty Fast: The John Hughes Mixtapes box set, released 11 November. The most enduring part of nearly every movie Hughes made in the 80s was the eclectic soundtrack. Why lean on big names and commercial sheen when you can introduce your audience to New Order, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Yello, Love and Rockets, Simple Minds, Oingo Boingo and more? His soundtracks were a big part of my youth and introduced me to many ‘college rock’ bands I may not have ever discovered elsewhere. This one’s a surprisingly detailed mix of 74 tracks from eleven different films and worth searching out.
Royksopp, Profound Mysteries III, released 18 November. The electronic band completes the trilogy of introspective thoughts about the unknown. It’s quite the achievement as the albums sound great on their own but also work seamlessly as an extended whole. One of my favorite projects of the year.
bis, Systems Music for Home Defence, released 18 November. This Glaswegian band is still going strong with its unique brand of bubblegummy technopop full of fun and humor.
Soundtrack, The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, released 25 November. While most of this record is incidental music by John Murphy, it’s the two Old 97’s tracks that make this one such a treat, full of the same silly humor as the Christmas special.
The Cure, Wish [30th Anniversary Edition], released 25 November. released nearly four years after their previous deluxe edition rerelease (2018’s Mixed Up), my favorite 90s Cure album gets not only an extended review but a fantastic remaster that gives it so much more depth and warmth.
Metallica, “Lux Aeterna” single, released 28 November. The band’s first studio release since 2016’s Hardwired…to Self-Destruct album sees them older and more contemplative but still in full-throttle. Written and recorded during the pandemic along with their upcoming album 72 Seasons, the new track feels like a new direction for them.
Coming tomorrow: December brings the last few weeks of new music for 2022.
I did not expect October to be so crammed full of amazing albums that I almost didn’t have time to listen to them all! Here’s a cross-section of some of the great stuff!
WILLOW, <COPINGMECHANISM>, released 7 October. She’s definitely come a long way from “Whip My Hair”, that’s for sure. This is a badass emo album that’s right up there with the best of Paramore and it’s surprisingly tight and blistery.
ALVVAYS, Blue Rev, released 7 October. Each album from this band has been a step in a different direction, and this one leans towards the bright, loud and dreamlike. This one’s also landed on many people’s end of year lists.
Broken Bells, Into the Blue, released 7 October. I’ve loved each of this band’s albums, and I’ve loved that each one lends itself to some kind of retro mood, but I did not expect their new one to go the same way Air did and get all 70s synth space rock! It’s a great sound for them, though, and well worth a listen.
Stray Kids, MAXIDENT, released 7 October. I’m…still not sure what to make of this band. Are they riffing on Disney pop? Are they the K-Pop answer to NSYNC? And the videos are just as mind-bogglingly weird but playful that you can’t not look away.
Bush, The Art of Survival, released 7 October. Another 90s band I’ve always really liked. This one kind of reminds me of the great but underrated The Science of Things, full of hard rocking but without the attempts at commercial poppiness. Really enjoying this one.
The Cult, Under the Midnight Sun, released 7 October. Another classic band returns! I always felt their best work has been when they utilized their dark post-punk-meets-goth sound and this one doesn’t disappoint.
PVA, Blush, released 14 October. Someone’s been listening to their Front 242 albums, because this one’s just full of that chilly, clinical European EBM that I love so much. It’s a wild album and a hell of a lot of fun. This one’s high up on my favorites of the year!
Wild Pink, ILYSM, released 14 October. A curious band with a curious sound…they’ve got that pondering indie rock style that kind of reminds me of Destroyer, but then it suddenly veers into a shoegazey wall-of-sound riff that just knocks me flat. Really love this one.
Knifeplay, Animal Drowning, released 19 October. Dreampop with a darker edge, this is totally something I’d have been listening to back in my teen years. I think KEXP played one of their songs exactly once and I immediately went and put it on my shopping list!
Too Much Joy, All These Fucking Feelings, released 21 October. The gang of goofballs returns once more with a new record recorded over the last year or so and premiered by a year’s worth of singles to promote it! Still dorky and still a lot of fun.
Tegan and Sara, Crybaby, released 21 October. Another album written and recorded during the pandemic, the two sisters came through with an album that sounds surprisingly bright and energetic.
Taylor Swift, Midnights, released 21 October. I’ll admit it right now, I totally love “Anti-Hero” because it’s such a beautifully crafted song despite it being so gloomy. I’ve really come around to her music these last couple of years, especially since her recent re-recording project.
Robyn Hitchcock, Shufflemania!, released 21 October. Ever the oddball, Robyn continues his long and illustrious career with tasty alt-pop goodness combined with his unique brand of strange lyricism with yet another great record.
Sloan, Steady, released 21 October. One of my favorite Canadian bands and another “I will download anything they release” group, this quartet deliver yet another wonderful pop confection.
Arctic Monkeys, The Car, released 21 October. This band has achieved the status of ‘we will record and release anything we damn well please’ and provide us with…lounge jazz? Sure, why not? They can certainly pull it off, that’s for sure. It’s definitely not the album a lot of people expected, but if you give it a shot, you won’t be let down.
a-ha, True North, released 21 October. It’s almost criminal how Morten Harket’s voice still sounds so angelic decades on, isn’t it? Their newest is a wonderful gem, and I’m glad they’re still going strong so many years later.
Sigur Rós, ( ) 2022 Remaster, released 28 October. I had this album on heavy repeat while writing A Division of Souls down in the Belfry back in 2002. The new mix sounds absolutely stunning and it’s still an amazing album.
The Beatles, Revolver Super Deluxe Edition, released 28 October. I mean, of course this one is on my top five best releases of the year! I was extremely curious as to how it was going to sound, considering the limitations of the original. Giles Martin outdid himself here, however, managing to take the song completely apart (with help from Peter Jackson’s magical sound team, doing the same thing they did with the Get Back miniseries) and put it back together in a new way. The album might sound pretty much the same, but the new remix has given each instrument a lot of breathing room, giving each song more life than it already had. As I’d said a while back on Twitter, the original sounds like a black-and-white movie from 1966 while the remix sounds like a movie made today about 1966. Absolutely stunning.
Coming up next Tuesday: November tunage! December will follow on Wednesday, followed by a year-end review on Thursday.
Pretty sure it was about this time that I realized that I had not made or completed any mixtapes this year! There’s just the one that I’d thrown together back in March but never sequenced. Shame on me, considering I had the time to do it, but never got around to it. Not going to kick myself about it, though…I’ll have time to start fresh again in the new year. In the meantime, this month definitely had a bumper crop of great new albums and singles that captured my attention!
Two Door Cinema Club, Keep On Smiling, released 2 September. The band has mellowed out a bit over the years, but they’re still consistent with their infectious pop that’s fun to listen and move to.
The HU, Rumble of Thunder, released 2 September. The Mongolian folk metal band returns with another badass record of songs of both battle and peace. We saw them at last year’s Outside Lands and they put on one hell of a great show!
Codeine, Dessau, released 6 September. I remember this band from my college days in Boston — a NYC slowcore band that frequently played in the area and even occasionally got play on WFNX — and this is what should have been their second album before it was shelved to make way for The White Birch instead.
Preoccupations, Arrangements, released 9 September. This noise-rock band consistently releases great post-punk albums full of thick tension and irritation. The new album is a shorter affair but is no less powerful with its walls of guitars and twitchy beats.
Quivers, “If Only” single, released 9 September. One of my favorite Aussie bands sneaks out a standalone single and it’s a lovely torch song. I’m of course looking forward to hearing more from this band!
Sudan Archives, Natural Born Prom Queen, released 9 September. Kind of weird, kind of funky and definitely an album that captures your attention and refuses to let go. I’ve been seeing this one show up on a lot of music journalists’ end-of-year list, and they’re not wrong.
Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, When the Lights Go, released 9 September. Known for his work as a producer and numerous guest spots on other electronic acts (such as BRONSON, where I’d first heard him), this is a great album for chilling out and relaxing.
The House of Love, A State of Grace, released 16 September. I’d always felt this band never got their proper due here in the States other than their occasional single like “I Don’t Know Why I Love You”. Great to see they’re still rocking out and still writing great tunes.
Death Cab for Cutie, Asphalt Meadows, released 16 September. Ben Gibbard seems to be returning back to what DCFC did best in the early 00s: brilliant melodies and heartfelt lyrics that never quite fit the pop mold yet still hit you square in the heart. Still, this one’s also a lot more noisy, kind of reminding me of Kintsugi‘s weirder moments.
The London Suede, Autofiction, released 16 September. So glad to see this band has returned after a number of years on hiatus, as they’ve always written such great heartfelt songs with just that slight hint of glam but without ever quite going full T Rex (I mean, aside from that first album way back in ’93…). The new record is a lovely listen.
The Beths, Expert in a Dying Field, released 16 September. One of my favorites from the last few years, they return with another banger of gorgeous guitar pop that just makes you want to bop around. Highly recommended!
Hooverphonic, “Mysterious” single, released 16 September. Oh hey, one of my favorite 90s bands sneaks out a single as well! Sweet! I’ve always loved their brand of symphonic music that would fit easily both on a dance floor and as a movie soundtrack.
The Clockworks, “Advertise Me” single, released 21 September. Damn, this band just keeps coming out with amazing music! A new song just a few months after their debut EP, it features them at their best: angry yet somehow heartfelt at the same time.
Editors, EBM, released 23 September. This band’s career has taken so many interesting turns: the bleakness of Joy Division, the tension of early Interpol, the grimness of goth, and now they’ve entered an entirely new and more electronic-based field with the addition of Blanck Mass as a full-time member. And they pull it off beautifully.
Asian Dub Foundation, RAFI (25th Anniversary Edition), released 23 September. Completely passed over in the late 90s, this group blended drum ‘n bass with reggae and made a number of brilliant records that hardly made a dent here in the States. “Naxalite” was one of my favorite tracks to listen to during the latter half of my HMV years.
Buzzcocks, Sonics in the Soul, released 23 September. Pete Shelley may have passed away a few years back, but he gave Steve Diggle the blessing to keep the band going, and their new record maintains their classic post-punk rage.
Pixies, Doggerel, released 30 September. Good to see this band is still going strong after reuniting some years back. This one definitely reminds me of Bossanova — not as noisy as their other classic albums and maybe a bit more radio friendly, but not without Frank Black bringing in his weird lyrics.
Bjork, Fossora, released 30 September. It’s been a good five years since her last album, but she’s no less weirder, musically and visually. This is her take on the pandemic, full of songs about loss and desolation, but somehow it still comes across as beautiful.
Dropkick Murphys, This Machine Still Kills Fascists, released 30 September. If anyone could revitalize Woody Guthrie’s protest music and give it a much-needed shot in the arm, it’s these guys. Guthrie’s daughter Nora provided them with his lyrics and they put together a great album full of righteous piss and vinegar.
The end of summer is when the weather adversely turns for San Francisco, getting slightly warmer during the day and getting cooler in the evenings. My work schedule had me working some mornings and some evenings during the week…and I found myself not really bothered by that as I’d thought? Considering the closeness of the Day Job and the lack of mental and emotional burnout, I realized I could get away with adjusting by the week with whatever creative work I had on hand…whether it was journaling, writing, or just posting on one of my blogs, I didn’t feel any stress. And that, I think, was a very good sign.
Ducks Ltd (feat. Jane Inc), “In Between Days” single, released 2 August. A sunny and straight-ahead cover of the classic Cure tune that tones down the original’s bounciness but maintains its summery sheen.
Cheekface, Too Much to Ask, released 2 August. “We Need a Bigger Dumpster” was definitely my Song of the Summer. I mean, as a Gen-Xer I can only laugh and carry on living despite the world going up in flames, right? The entire album is full of deadpan goofiness and it’s a super fun listen.
Art Moore, Art Moore, released 5 August. Moody dreampop mixed with a lonely alt-folk sound that comes across a little bit like Beach House mixed with Sharon Van Etten, but that’s not a bad thing. The whole album is a pleasant and relaxing listen.
Erasure, Day-Glo (Based On a True Story), released 12 August. The duo takes tracks from their 2020 album The Neon, reconstructs them, and creates an altogether new and surprisingly experimental record in the process. It just goes to show that Andy Bell and Vince Clarke are brilliant songwriters.
Sylvan Esso, No Rules Sandy, released 12 August. Their albums have always been full of quirky and catchy dancepop, and while this one is no different, it’s even more leftfield than usual. No rules indeed.
Kasabian, The Alchemist’s Euphoria, released 12 August. Their first album in five years (and the first after former singer Tom Meighan’s departure, with guitarist Serge Pizzorno taking his place) sees the band going in an altogether different direction, away from its fuzzy post-punk and further into danceable alt-rock. It’s definitely an unexpected direction for them, but they pull it off perfectly.
Collective Soul, Vibrating, released 12 August. This 90s band is still going strong years later, and the new record shows they can still write great rock-out tunes and lovely ballads.
Hot Chip, Freakout/Release, released 19 August. “Down” is firmly in my top five favorite songs of the year, and their new album is high up there as well. They’ve always been just that little bit weird and embracing their inherent nerdiness, but the difference this time out is that this new album goes well beyond that. It’s hard, twitchy, and even a bit dark.
Silversun Pickups, Physical Thrills, released 19 August. Many bands released what was their ‘pandemic’ record over the last year or so, and the theme for theirs is about the desolation of being apart and finding alternate ways to connect to our loved ones. It alternates between deeply sad moments and tense irritation and the end result is amazing.
Royksopp, Profound Mysteries II, released 19 August. The second of three albums from this great electronic band sees them looking back to the influences of their youth, giving the record a very 80s synthwave sound. All three albums are highly recommended.
Karate, Guns & Tanning, “Enchanter” single, released 23 August. This band is one of my favorite new finds of the year (and yes, it was found on KEXP), their sound borrowing heavily from the classic wall-of-sound shoegaze of the 90s and the moodier post-punk of the 80s while still sounding fresh. A band to watch for.
Blondie, Against the Odds: 1974-1982, released 26 August. I grew up with this band always playing somewhere on the radio, yet I never quite got around to listening to them any deeper than their well-known singles. They dropped an eight-disc box set this year featuring all of their classic 70s and early 80s albums including two discs of demos. I look forward to finally giving this one a thorough listen!
Duncan Sheik, Claptrap, released 26 August. I’ve been a fan since his 1996 debut, as he’s a fantastic and very underrated songwriter. He’s been busy with stage and musical work as of late, but it’s great to see him back with a new album after so long!
Altered Images, Mascara Streakz, released 26 August. Speaking of classic bands returning after far too long, this group was best known for their bubblegummy pop in the early 80s and their unexpected return was welcomed by may longtime fans.
UNKLE, Ronin II, released 31 August. James Lavelle returns for a second Ronin volume that’s not quite tied in with the original and not quite a remix album either. As with most UNKLE albums, it’s moody and adventurous, and well worth a listen.
July’s playlist shows that my tastes in music have definitely changed and evolved over the years. For every band I’d followed for years releasing an unexpectedly laid back record (Interpol), there’s a new group that captures my attention with its bubblegummy goodness (beabadoobee), with the occasional sideline into the bizarre (Ty Segall). This is what listening to non-commercial radio will do to you, I suppose…
Metric, Formentera, released 8 July. Another band that chose to focus on the effects of the pandemic. Metric has always had a tinge of darkness to their music, but this one leans heavily on it with songs like “Doomscroller” and the single “All Comes Crashing.”
beabadoobee, Beatopia, released 15 July. This is such a super fun band to listen to! Catchy melodies and irresistible guitar pop make them a band I return to whenever I’m in a good mood. Their latest is just as great as their previous, if not more so!
Working Men’s Club, Fear Fear, released 15 July. I’m loving the fact that more new bands have been giving an extended nod to the dark sounds of 80s post-punk, especially when synths are involved. This new album sounds just like something I’d have listened to as a teen!
Superorganism, World Wide Pop, released 15 July. A very apt album title for this band, as this one’s full of perky, slightly off-kilter tunes that are just this side of sugary goodness.
Interpol, The Other Side of Make-Believe, released 15 July. An extremely understated album for this band, which definitely threw me for a loop for a bit. This one’s very muted and moody, unlike several of their last few albums. Well worth checking out, though.
You Shriek, “Dead Pilots” single, released 19 July. I add this as I actually knew this guy in college! He was a friend of a friend and his sound was much more goth/synthwave back in the early 90s, but he’s come along way since then with a brand spankin’ new single.
Ty Segall, “Hello, Hi”, released 22 July. This SoCal weirdo is someone I never would have followed if not for the fact that KEXP loves him and his music (and the fact that he released an EP two years ago featuring all Nilsson covers). The album is full of fuzzed-out guitars and oddball lyrics and it’s all great.
Jack White, Entering Heaven Alive, released 22 July. The second of two albums he dropped this year and the quieter half, leaning somewhat towards psychedelic country-folk (if there’s such a thing). It also features a tongue-in-cheek take of the previous album’s “Taking Me Back” single as if done by the Carter Family.
Bananarama, Masquerade, released 22 July. Yes, this band is still around! After reading their memoir a while back, I finally gave them another listen and came to appreciate them a lot more.
ODESZA, The Last Goodbye, released 22 July. Another KEXP find, they’re very much set in that curious indietronica universe where it’s obviously dance music but it’s also beautifully crafted and full of emotion.
Sun’s Signature, Sun’s Signature EP, released 29 July. One of my top ten releases this year, Elizabeth Fraser’s return (after thirteen years) finds her working with her partner Damon Reece (of Lupine Howl) to create something beautiful and strange. That might be stock in trade, but this is definitely not Cocteau Twins. This album made me realize I don’t relisten to albums nearly as much as I used to, and that I really needed to do something about that.
I keep coming back to the fact that my Current Day Job allows me so much more time for introspection and clarity of mind, and that the Former Day Job did not in so many ways. I also come back to the realization at how much I’d shut myself out socially. I mean, sure, I talk to my friends online — especially now that most of us are all gathered in one place on Discord now — but for years there wasn’t that deep of a social connection in general.
Working in retail again after so many decades made me realize just how much I’d missed that connection. While I’m not a drinks-after-work sort of person anymore, this is the first time in ages where I look forward to seeing my coworkers, having fun chats and getting to know them on a personal level. Some of them are only half my age, but it truly is fun to get to know them from a Gen-X standpoint. And as an unexpected plus, these new social connections have made me do a lot of rethinking of my character building in my writing!
Nation of Language, “Androgynous” single, released 1 June. One of my favorite recent synth-rock bands dropped a few interesting things this year, including a cover of the classic Replacements song. They turn a boozy, sloppy album track and turn it into a curious and rather nice melody that tiptoes along.
Prince and the Revolution, Prince and the Revolution: Live, released 3 June. The fabled live show from Syracuse NY in March of ’85 was filmed and a rarity for years until it was officially released via online streaming in the middle of the pandemic. [I highly recommend watching it, as it really does show just how flipping amazing Prince really was, and how tight the Revolution was with him.] It finally got an album release this year and it’s well worth adding to your collection.
Kula Shaker, 1st Congregational Church of Eternal Love and Free Hugs, released 10 June. Crispian Mills and his band return with quite the unexpected album that brings them back to their classic psychedelic-Britpop sound, this time adding a healthy dose of self-conscious humility and humor. This album might be full of religious themes, but it’s also filled with much silliness (the minute-long spoken interludes set during a make-believe mass are often quite goofy) and there’s even an unexpectedly great and funky cover of a Marx Brothers song as the first full track!
Panda Riot, Extra Cosmic, released 10 June. This band had been hiding away since 2017 so I was pleasantly surprised to see they’re back with a fun, fuzzy and bouncy album that got some play during my writing sessions. This is definitely a record I should be listening to more!
Shearwater, The Great Awakening, released 10 June. One of A’s favorite bands return with another album of epic and atmospheric alternative rock that sounds both dreamlike and daunting. This is another album that’s become part of my writing session soundtrack.
Various Artists with Neneh Cherry, The Versions, released 10 June. An unexpected treat, several bands rerecord a number of Cherry’s best tracks and bring them into the 21st century. This is a really fun album worth a listen!
The Dream Syndicate, Ultraviolet Hymns and True Confessions, released 10 June. This band has had a bit of a renaissance with several new albums since 2017 and a great and exhaustive box set overview of their excellent 1986 Out of the Grey album (What Can I Say? No Regrets.. from January). Glad to see they’re still going strong.
Big Wreck, Big Wreck 7.2 EP, released 17 June. This band is also going strong after several years, following up last year’s EP with five more tracks of hard-rocking blues and blasting vocals.
Foals, Life Is Yours, released 17 June. This band can be alternately forebodingly loud and light and funky, and sometimes they’re both at the same time. Their irresistible grooves and twittering guitar licks keep you listening from start to finish.
Lit, Tastes Like Gold, released 17 June. This 90s band is back and it’s like they never left, giving us more songs about being a terrible boyfriend, having a little bit too much fun, and getting in stupid kinds of trouble. And it’s a super fun album!
Alanis Morissette, the storm before the calm, released 17 June. On the complete opposite side of the spectrum, Alanis returns with an unexpectedly chill and meditative work of mostly long instrumental tracks. While one might expect new-agey space music, this is firmly planted in the real, with ethereal hushed vocals, quiet percussion and relaxing melody.
Porcupine Tree, CLOSURE/CONTINUATION, released 24 June. For years Steven Wilson made no mention of his former band during their incredibly long hiatus so its band members could focus on their solo endeavors. The surprise return (minus bassist Colin Edwin) brings them back to what they’ve always done best: extended jams of tense hard rock anthems. This feels a lot like their early 00’s era of In Absentia and Deadwing, which in all honesty I felt was their best work ever. Definitely in my top ten of the year.
Various Artists, For the Birds: The Birdsong Project, Vol II, released 24 June. The second of five volumes of the poetry/music hybrid project from Audobon features songs from Elvis Costello, the Flaming Lips, Jeff Tweedy, Stephin Merritt, Shearwater, and more.
Third Eye Blind, Unplugged, released 24 June. This was a band I loved, then hated, then loved again years later. (I think it’s partly because they’re a hometown band to me now!) Their classics work surprisingly well in an unplugged format, making this an extremely enjoyable album.
By May I was back into the groove of full-time day job work again. Five days a week and hovering right around forty hours, it was definitely not as stressful as the Former Day Job, and I just had to get used to the more physical demands of standing for most of my shift. And getting home at a reasonable hour with time to spare was just what I needed. It wouldn’t be long before I started using some of my past experience to slide into a few extra responsibilities.
Musicwise, I’d started flagging a bit as I wasn’t always able to connect with my daily schedule of listening to KEXP, but I made up for it by keeping an eye on the weekly new releases and sampling new bands.
Belle and Sebastian, A Bit of Previous, released 6 May. I’ve witnessed this band’s evolution since the late 90s and they’ve gone from the bedroom-pop twee (they were the band first given that term, I believe) to quirky modern rock to windy Smiths-style British alternapop. Their latest finds them at home sounding confident and strong.
Warpaint, Radiate Like This, released 6 May. So happy that this band is back after such a long hiatus!! Their sound is still a bit weird and slightly spooky, but also just as infectious as it’s always been. Another band worth checking out their entire catalog.
Dubstar, Two, released 6 May. I’ve loved this band ever since the US version of Goodbye came out in 1997 (the one with their megahit “Stars”), and I’m quite happy that not only did they get back together in 2018, they’re still going strong! The new record is one of my favorites of the year, and I love that they included a cover of my all-time favorite REM song on it!
The Smile, A Light for Attracting Attention, released 13 May. Sounding a lot like the quieter moments of OK Computer and the less-manic moments of Amnesiac, Thom and Jonny’s full album finds them writing some of their best introspective and adventurous music.
Florence + the Machine, Dance Fever, released 13 May. I’m still not sure what to make of this album as it’s definitely more leftfield than her usual (and that’s saying a lot, considering) but it’s a curious and entertaining listen.
Various Artists, For the Birds: The Birdsong Project Vol I, released 20 May. The first of five multi-disc volumes for an extremely curious and expansive project from National Audubon Society featuring spoken-word poetry and music about our avian friends. Interspersed with writers are musicians such as Beck, Nick Cave, UNKLE, Karen O, Beach House, and more.
Liam Gallagher, C’MON YOU KNOW, released 27 May. The younger brother’s turn in the spotlight doesn’t quite have the bombast as his earlier solo works (most likely due to pandemic reasons keeping recording at a minimum) but it actually works in his favor here; you’re not focused on the grandiosity and instead on the guitar groove and the tight songwriting. Our Boy has come a long way since his former band’s days.
Wilco, Cruel Country, released 27 May. Long labeled as purveyors of alt-country — much to their chagrin — they turn the tables this time out and completely embrace it with nearly all live takes of full-on twang alternafolk, and the end result is an amazing collection of high lonesome melodies and lovely tunes.
jennylee, Heart Tax, released 27 May. Not only do we get a new Warpaint album this month, we get a solo album from its bassist! This one’s much darker and more sedate than her band’s release, meandering and moody and contemplative. An album to listen to late at night.
Tomorrow we hit the halfway point of the year with tunes from June!