Year End List: 2020
50 albums that I really enjoyed this year, for your perusal.
This is a long one, so I’ll get right to it.
Every year I start these by saying that I don’t make lists of “best albums.” These albums served me well this year, they helped me out, they helped me work, and most importantly they stayed in my headphones. There’s a lot of albums from 2020 that may be more important, better works of art, or whatever you want to call it, but these are the ones that I came back to again and again and which in some way felt like friends to me. To me, they’re some of the most important records released this year.
Another side-note: I don’t consider myself much of a writer, and it’s funny because every year I tell myself “just write a sentence or two for each albums” and then multiple releases end up with paragraphs because I guess I just like rambling on and on. I don’t know why I feel the need to say this but excuse any repetitious descriptors, errors, etc. because I’m just one dude!
You ever write a lot of stuff and just end up cross-eyed unable to parse or proof-read? That’s where I’m at with this, so I’m gonna release it to the world, and hope that you enjoy it and find a few new albums to spin!
Let me know what you think on Twitter, and which albums were your favourites. On with the show:
Jeff Rosenstock - NO DREAM
I just have to get this one out of the way; Jeff Rosenstock put a new album out this year. His albums all pretty much land on my year-end lists, because I’m in the pocket 100% for his songwriting. NO DREAM is another phenomenal album that you’ve likely read about a lot already. I love it. “***BNB” has to rank as an all-time Rosenstock IMO.
Frail Hands - parted/departed/apart
2020 was another wild year for heavy music of all kinds - metalcore, hardcore, screamo… tons of releases spanning a bunch of genres that really hit for me. Frail Hands’ parted/departed/apart was one that I just couldn’t put down for the life of me.
It’s everything a screamo album should be and more - cathartic and chaotic, but with enough noisy melody to be super addictive. Huge release from this Nova Scotian band, and a borderline game-changer for me.
Power Alone - Rather Be Alone
Speaking of game changers, Power Alone’s Rather Be Alone was another huge release for me this year and one that followed me around all year - from blasting it in the car stereo, to cranking it on headphones for some much needed release on a lunch hour. This is huge, groove-based hardcore that hits incredibly hard riff-wise and lyrically.
Wednesday - I Was Trying to Describe You to Someone
The award for “most recommended album by me” would likely go to this incredible slice of shoegaze/slowcore influenced indie rock. I loved this record, with all its deep fuzziness, squelching use of feedback and churningly effective guitar riffs. The album seems to build-up into highlight “Maura,” with pairs skewed hooks with Karly Hartzman ’s melancholic performance for a dose of dreamy but noisy guitar-pop perfection.
Stormo - Stormo
Another guitar-pop release full of tracks that found their way onto a number of my playlists was Stormo’s self-titled, 16 minute EP of emo-laced indie-pop. Opener “Cigar” is an incredibly addictive little song, and the rest of the EP follows suit.
Dogleg - Melee
OK, here’s another one that you probably don’t need to hear much about from me. Dogleg’s Melee was hugely hyped on the internet, their mix of throwback emo-punk seems tailor-made for the current musical landscape - it’s just familiar enough to give that rush of nostalgia, just aggressive enough to get you moving, and with enough modern hooks that they side-step being just a legacy-worshiping act. It’s quite the feat, really.
Shell of a Shell - Away Team
The pacing of this record is perfection… I feel like that’s something you don’t hear about a lot in reviews. The way Nashville’s Shell of a Shell paces Away Team is wildly effective. Shorter songs dot the earlier tracks, with the ballad-like “Funny” opening track leading into the driving indie-rock of “My Wildfire.” As the album stretches on, the songs get longer. Even their songwriting starts to stretch out, tracks begin to jump around tirelessly with quiet-loud dynamics and dense, knotted layers of guitar. Away Team easily ranks as one of my favourite releases of the year.
Tosser - Total Restraint
Love to hear a band not only doing the post-punk thing, but also remembering how closely tied that genre was to power-pop and dosing their sound with big melodies. “Bent Out” clicks along with driving strums before busting through the walls with anthemic force. I don’t think you could call a single song on this album “predicable.” They always shuck and juke when you least expect it, which makes Total Restraint a breath of fresh air.
En Attendant Ana - Juillet
I remember hearing En Attendant Ana’s The Violence Inside in 2018, but don’t have a huge recollection of whether it hit me in just the right spot at the time. Thankfully, this year I ended up subscribed to The Turntable Report through one of those happy accidents that makes social media so delightful sometimes. More on that in a minute. Juillet is a bit of a hard one to pin-point - it’s equal parts sophisti-pop, post-punk, guitar-pop, twee/dream-pop and a whole lot more, honestly. It’s one of the most diverse-yet-whole albums of the year, as every element works in tandem. Don’t skip over this one!
Positive No - Kyanite
Okay. So, at some point this year I dove my head deep into 1994’s emo releases to make a playlist I ended up calling “1994: The Year Emo Broke.” Why, I can’t exactly remember. Was it because I once got in a big fight with my friends who claimed the term “emo” didn’t exist in 1994? Was it because I was trying to find notable 1994 releases for a podcast project of mine and noticed that 1994 seemed to be a super-diverse moment for the genre, seeing two waves splitting apart from one another? Maybe! Regardless, I stumbled upon Dahlia Seed’s Valentine Kid’s Letter for the first time, which I immediately loved.
Somehow, I later stumbled upon Positive No’s Kyanite - maybe because anytime I see the name J. Robbins on a record I will immediately hit play? I came to realize right away that Positive No featured Tracy Wilson of Dahlia Seed alongside other members of Dunebuggy, Fun Size and more.
I realize now I haven’t talked about the album at all, but I wanted to point out this journey because it highlights what can be so incredible about the tools at our disposal. Streaming has more downsides than upsides when it comes to artist support, which makes it all the more important to find ways to support outside of the streaming ecosystem. Reach out to artists, share their music, buy their cassettes or vinyl releases. You will find more new music, more discoveries, and foster a more enriching relationship with the music you listen to this way. I am probably preaching to the choir, but regardless.
Kyanite is a beautiful release, full of push-and-pull between noisy guitar-rock and gorgeous emotive releases. It fuses the theatricality of vintage emo with the intensity of noisy indie-rock in just the right way. This is the meeting place of everything I love about guitar-rock, post-punk, indie-pop, and more just colliding together in a wonderful explosion. A true delight.
Oldeye - Runner
This one came to me via a tweet from the Herd of Gorillas account. Immediately I was into this, and at 16 minutes long I ended up spinning umpteen-times this year. Heavy guitar-pop-rock vibe going on here, with really addictive hooks. I particularly dug how they incorporate electronic touches - not always layered into their sound, often in a very juxtaposed way. Opening song “Window” has a “wait, is this a chillout spotify playlist band? sike! we’re a rock act” thing that I just love.
The bitcrushed-sounding vocals in the second half of “House” are insidiously catchy. Closer “Ghost” does get some synth lines on top of their driving rhythm section and looping guitar lines. This is really, really interesting and satisfying indie rock music right here... very into it.
We Versus The Shark - Goodbye Guitar
This was a real surprise for me, having not really thought much about We Versus The Shark since it seemed like they had all but disbanded after 2008’s Dirty Versions. Their debut album Ruin Everything! was the kind of album that lit the blogosphere on fire, combining Dischord-esque noise-rock with danceable indie-rock, disco-punk and pop-hooks. They were the kind of band who stuffed their opening track (“You Don’t Have To Kick It”) with enough licks and hooks for a whole other record because why the hell not?!
Goodbye Guitar is the result of years of tinkering - their bandcamp says they started thinking about putting together new and old material around 2015 - and it shows, because after the first three or four tracks of my initial listen I was about ready to proclaim it one of the best of the year. It’s everything that made their scrappy debut great, refined and updated for 2020 - still buzzing, still noisy, still danceable, and still completely unpredictable.
Other Half - Big Twenty
Where is the hype for this band? Holy shit, this is a totally ripping album of post-hardcore/indie-punk out of the UK. It has so much attitude packed into its melodies that it seems they’re living up to the “Nasty music for nice people” line they have in their bio. Combine that with some of the best dual-singer interplay I heard all year and this was a sure-fire addition to my list. This grabbed me immediately, and over the year I just kept coming back.
Quakers - II - The Next Wave
A ton of incredible hip-hop albums came out this year, but the one that kept me coming back was this huge 33-track release from Quakers. Is every song a masterpiece? Absolutely not. Does the record feature an insanely stacked cast of features? Hell yes. This is a sampler platter, it’s a mixtape-like odyssey where you will find some absolute fire bangers, and maybe some tracks that aren’t your taste. That’s what I love about this album, every time I listen to it there’s a new stand-out track, or a song I didn’t love the first time hits at just the right moment. Put this album on and go for a walk outside, trust me.
Houseghost - Houseghost
Another one for the “where the hell is the hype?” pile. Listen, I get it: pop-punk is a hard sell, and I know that for some people they will just never be able to unlock whatever it is that stops them from enjoying pop-punk in their brains. I’m fine with that. But Houseghost are doing it right. They’re taking the kinda-spooky-kinda silly Halloween-y vibes and doing it with huge riffs and power-pop-punk melodies. This album almost sounds like Crusades if they had more of a sly sense of humor about themselves… and also really dug pumpkins.
Loudmouth - Loudmouth
Okay, speaking of pop-punk. I’m sorry, skip along if you can’t handle it. But, this album… shit. I listened to it so much. If this offends anyone involved with the project, I’m sorry again but… this is like the best Dude Ranch-era Blink-182 role-play I’ve ever heard. Hyper-fast, simple little speedy-hook riffs, trading vocals, syrupy choruses, short run times. It’s all here, it’s all incredibly addictive, and I want more of it right fucking now. Features (as far as I can tell) members of Graduating Life, Snooze, Just Friends Mom Jeans, etc. FULL LENGTH ALBUM WHEN THO?
youbet - Compare & Despair
youbet’s Compare & Despair is a stack of incredibly eclectic, lightly psychedelic indie-pop that reminds me very fondly of trawling around mp3 blogs in the mid-2000s looking for my next favourite album. This would have been a hit for me then, and it really hit the spot in 2020 for me; everything on this album is skewed just so in a way that begs for closer inspection. There’s plucky acoustic guitar lines on “Bite” that sink into your skin, while warbling synths hold your hand and pull towards a multi-coloured horizon on “Nice Try.”
Pavid Vermin - Cutting Corners
Punk-pop’s hardest working one-man-band released three full-lengths, one EP and a few stray tracks in 2020… phewf! Cutting Corners has a love-it-or-hate-it kind of concept, and a quick glance at the track list will reveal two things: one, yes the track list is identical to The Beatles’ Abby Road, and no this is not an album of covers. What kind of song would you write if you locked yourself into calling it “She Came In Through The Bathroom Window” or “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)?” And, could you ever hope to have it stand outside of the shadow of The Beatles’ original? Somehow, on song after song, Pavid Vermin proves it is possible on this blast of an album.
Options - Wind's Gonna Blow
Another act that released multiple albums this year, Options’ Wind’s Gonna Blow was my favourite of the two - or was it just because I had more time to spend with it? Who knows. Both albums are very pensive, and full of songs that would fit right in on a grey-day playlist. Options is the project of multi-instrumentalist Seth Engel, who plays with so many great bands it’ll spin your head: Great Deceivers, Pyramid Scheme, Lifted Bells, Garden Solutions, Retirement Party, and more. It’s any wonder they have enough energy left to craft such effective emo-tinged indie-rock, but here we are.
Tired Lion - Breakfast For Pathetics
This came at me out of nowhere - I think it was one of those “Recommended for you” albums on Spotify. It was also one of those moments were 0:25 seconds into “Diet Sick” I realized this album was gonna rule. I can’t stress how much I love this intersection of 90s grungy rock and just absolute sweet-tooth pop that Tired Lion has hit on with Breakfast for Pathetics. Nowhere is it more effective than on lead-single “Lie To Me,” because the hook on this thing is spine-tinglingly immense - with Sophie Hopes yelling “Lie to me / tell me I’m pretty / tell me I’m skinny / tell me I’m winning” right before 2020’s most well-placed and effective “FUCK”’s. It’s just the best.
Teenage Halloween - Teenage Halloween
Teenage Halloween’s self-titled debut full length arrived with a tidal wave of buzz and hype; an EP in 2017 put them on the map, but when this album dropped in September you couldn’t take one step on Twitter without seeing something about them being re-tweeted. Listen to the album and you will understand why they’ve built such a fervent cult-following: these songs beg to be sung out in sweaty rooms, arms around strangers and beers. Self-described as songs “about mental health and queer struggles,” there’s a streak of storytelling through these tracks that has garnered comparisons to Hold Steady and Springsteen. This is the kind of album that makes me miss live music the most, because right about now that aforementioned fictional, loud basement show sounds like just what I need to be honest. To be screaming along in unison with strangers.
Bashful - Driving
Straight to the point punk-rock from Richmond, Virginia. There’s not a whole lot to say here outside of it being fast ‘n’ poppy, just the way I like it. Songs cycle through hook after hook with reckless abandon, and overall Bashful’s sound lands in a nice spot between three-chord thrashers and more ambitious punks. This isn’t another album of Ramonecore worship, but it’s also not just more gruff-Hot-Water-Dillinger stuff either. It’s a nice balance, and I was happy to return to this record throughout the year.
Buddie - Diving
One of the more overlooked albums this year in my opinion, I would have expected this to land on a ton of year-end lists but I feel like I’m not seeing as much talk about Buddie’s Diving as I thought I would. Diving has that sort-of-progressive-indie-pop thing going on, without dipping into a full-on indie-orchestra sound… songs stretch out and buzz with depth while maintaining a totally catchy bliss. I just think this album is super impressive and I hope more people get into Buddie. Just try “Heartbeat” or “In Aquamarine” on for size and see what you think. This was another one of those albums on the tip-of-my-tongue all year, at the ready to be recommended to anyone who would hear it.
Sharptooth - Transitional Forms
Heavy and angry melodic hardcore is the name of Sharptooth’s game. I love that they open this album with such a middle-finger on “Say Nothing (In The Absence of Content)” and the rest of the album’s in-your-face feminism follows-suit. I feel like more people should be talking about Lauren Kashan’s vocal performances on this record… the range shown on these songs is just amazing. Even within the same song, like on “153” where things take a turn from ETID-esque punk-grooves to just complete throat-shredding, brain-rattling intensity. I can’t wait to hear even more from Sharptooth.
Sarchasm - Sarchasm
Sarchasm have been putting out music since 2012, but for some reason their releases haven’t landed for me the way their 2020 self-titled release did. I do know that I enjoyed their album Beach Blanket Bummer Pop! when it came out last year.
Maybe 2020 just lends itself to songs like “When’s My Right Time Kent?” where lyrics like “Opening and closing / and opening and closing / the same old doors over and over again / just to find something” and “I just want to be surrounded / by people that I love / who know who the fuck I am” just hit harder right now. This is another “I need to go to that sweaty, sing-along rock show” albums for sure.
Bad Boy Chiller Crew - Full Wack No Brakes
No single year got me the most puzzled looks in response to my recommendation than BBCC’s Full Wack No Brakes. And I get it, I’m not sure exactly who wanted a mix of bassline house/club music (think Vengaboys lol) and grimey UK rap, but here it is and it’s fucking addictive. It helps that they’re no slouches on the mic, and their legitimately dope flows will take a patient listener from “ha ha this is kind of hilarious, I guess?” to “oh wait, no it’s actually dope as shit.”
exhalants - Atonement
Honestly, just press play and listen to the sound of this album. Jesus christ, it’s dirty as hell. That bassline is so crushingly thick, and yet exhalants are able to pull back and create beauty in the nasty chaos. Easily one of the filthiest - and best - noisy-as-hell rock records of 2020.
Math The Band - Flange Factory Five
Full disclosure, you can hear my voice on this record. I had nothing to do with the creation of the album though so I’m still all good to tell you it’s a fantastic release from this long-running act.
They’ve achieved a huge undertaking with Flange Factory Five, continuing to hone their chippy-chirpy hyper-pop thing while upping the level of ambition considerably. Who else released their album as a guitar pedal this year? Who else wrote a choose your own adventure novel to go along with their album in 2020? Who did those things while also releasing a dope record? One band, and it was Math the Band! I think fans are going to look back at this album as a huge turning point for Math the Band, it’s that impressive.
Gulch - Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress
This album was on a lot of other year-end lists, so what else is there to say. If you don’t know it, it’s a gnarly, thrashy, loud piece of hardcore/punk. It’s 15 minutes of disgusting teeth-shattering hardcore and it ends with a Siouxsie and the Banshees cover. So, you know, go listen to it.
Cagework - Exercise in Conflict
Another one that landed on my desk by way of the Spotify “Recommended For You” algorithm. This London, UK act plays grab-bag indie-rock with wirey guitar melodies aplenty. There’s something about Cagework that I just can’t put my finger on - their record kind of refuses to be pigeonholed. I love that about this album, as every time I circled around to listen again I heard something fresh, whether it was the start-stop earworl of “Monochrome,” instro-jam “F Tuning” or the acoustic-led Helvetia-esque title track. Don’t overlook this release!!!
Milk Teeth - Milk Teeth
Milk Teeth are one of those bands where you’re familiar with their name, have even listened to their albums, but for some reason whenever you put their albums on they aren’t exactly what you remember. I think this is a benefit to the band, because every time I have come back to their self-titled 2020 album since release I’ve been like, oh shit yeah this rules! They continue to surprise even though I’m becoming more and more familiar with the record. It’s got a huge sound; big, big blown-out guitars and choruses that stick to your brain.
The Globs - The Weird and Wonderful World of the Globs
This one came my way thanks to the legendary Mitch Clem (of Nothing Nice to Say.) They posted something about this record on Instagram, and having not heard of it I rush to hit play. Turns out, this is a project featuring Mike R. Mike of The Bananas - one of those bands that I enjoy but have yet to hit that fanatic level of love for. The Weird and Wonderful World of the Globs might be the sure-fire-hit pop-punk-album-for-people-who-cringe-at-the-genre because it’s so wonderfully catchy, so perfectly arranged with call-backs to vintage pop production values and songwriting.
Noera - Bird In Flight, done in soap
Noera’s Pearls was one of the best records of 2019, so I was very stoked to see another release from Prudence Delilah so soon. With Bird In Flight, done in soap, Noera has established themselves as one of the best acts going. These two records are so strong, so well produced and written that I’m surprised to not see more people talking about them. I told everyone I could to check this album out this year, and I hope you will give it a whirl. Plus, all proceeds from sales of this album go towards supporting black trans folks in Philadelphia, so if you have a couple bucks to put towards this album you should!
The Chinkees - K.A. MUSIC
18 years is a helluva long time between music releases, but that’s how long it has been since the last output from Mike Park’s influential ska act The Chinkees. Mike Park (also of Skankin’ Pickle, The Bruce Lee Band, and more) has always used his record label (Asian Man Records) and bands to confront racism in the music industry and beyond head-on. Park is such a wonderfully positive force in the industry, and to have new music from The Chinkees in 2020 is a blast. Tons of great vibes going on here - it’s power-pop, a little dub, a bit third wave, a bit two-tone. At eleven minutes it’s just enough to whet the appetite for more Mike Park-led ska… hopefully they keep at it.
The Goodbye Party - Beautiful Motors
The Goodbye Party’s album Beautiful Motors was one of my most hotly anticipated releases of the year. I loved 2015’s Silver Blues and this is a gorgeous follow up that alternates between jangly indie, atmospheric pop, and crunchy, driving rock tunes. Michael Cantor is an immense talent. Highly recommended. Features performances by Maryn Jones (All Dogs / Yowler,) Kyle Gilbride (Swearin’) and Sam Cook-Parrott (Radiator Hospital.)
Wicketkeeper - Shonk
Produced by Lindsay Corstorphine, member of Sauna Youth (who delivered an all-timer fav of mine with 2015’s Distractions,) this self-described “instrument-swapping London trio” definitely share a similar fuzzed-out riff-stuffed sound as Sauna Youth. This is uncut ramshackle slack-rock wound-tight into 14 pop-nuggets worthy of the repeat button.
Sweeping Promises - Hunger for a Way Out
There’s a certain thing that comes to mind when you think post-punk revival acts - gloomy basslines pulse while the singer moans on in a kind of monotonous way, and there’s some plucky guitar lines to help ground everything melodically. Listen, I’m not saying every post-punk band sounds this way, but over the years that style has come back into trend a few times. I guess what I’m saying is that it can take a lot for a band to stand out when there’s 15+ other bands trying to do a similar thing (true of any genre, really, but I’m rambling and probably pissing people off here.)
Sweeping Promises stand out because of a few reasons: a) spirited performances, b) excellent production, and most importantly: c) they’ve got fuckin’ songs. These songs are classically post-punk revival but they layer in some dream-pop elements and then just wrote the hell out of some hooks and songs. The kind that don’t smack you in the face, but rather pack their things up and move into your eardrums for the rest of the year, rent free.
Hunger for a Way Out proves that no genre can be strip-mined and no sound over-exposed when you’ve got the chops to back it up. What a stunning achievement this album is.
The Big Easy - A Long Year
The Big Easy’s debut album A Long Year has garnered the New York act comparisons to Pup, The Menzingers, Joyce Manor and some other big-name modern punk acts, and it’s easy to see why: their album is stuffed with scrappy hooks, energetic punk songs, and a touch of slacker-indie throwback vibes. Of all those comparisons though, Joyce Manor’s latest output feels most apt; The Big Easy have a tendency to slow down and absorb all takes on a melody, like on “Fake It Till I Make It,” or on “A Drink for Two” when the song steps down a gear and opens up wide. A Long Year is a remarkable debut LP.
It may be an album from 2020, but on “New Year’s Day” Berthomieux sings: “I made a resolution to be happy ‘cause I want this year to be different.” There’s a 2021 vibe for you.
SPICE - SPICE
Members of Ceremony, Sabertooth Zombie, Creative Adult and more team-up on this debut album that feels like another tough one to nail down… is it alt-rock? post-punk? I’ve even seen people try and label it pop-punk or 90s nostalgia, but none of that really makes sense to me completely. They sound like the kind of band where you could catch ‘em wearing a Jawbreaker shirt one day, Velvet Underground the next and a Echo & The Bunnymen shirt the following day and be like “yeah, it all checks out really.”
Yamasaki Suz - Révolution Technologique
I love chiptunes and chip-based music, but you might not know it if you read any of my previous year-end lists. I suppose I just don’t keep up with new releases in the genre as much as I do with other genres like indie-rock or hardcore. This year, I started compiling lists of the most popular albums as rated on RateYourMusic in different genres to try and fix that issue and Yamasaki Suz’s Révolution Technologique was one chiptune album that really hit me hard.
It’s super wide-open compared to what you might expect from the genre; 6-minute opener “Auto-Explicativo” starts with skittering hi-hats and bass-hits with plucky synths bouncing from left to right and back again, ultimately ending in an extended minimal, distant stretch instead of a crescendo into chaos.
In some ways, it reminds me more of progressive-trance/house in structure, which is part of the reason why I kept coming back to this fascinating release throughout the year.
Eedl - Unstored
This Eedl album Unstored was another record I kind of forced myself to discover by creating top-rated genre-based playlists via RateYourMusic. This came from trying to catch up on glitch/electronic releases and was one of the first to grab my ears and not let go. It has everything I go for in the genre - moody atmospherics that seem to reverberate into an infinite distance, but firmly rooted in a glitchy foundation that often threatens to pulse itself into jungle/dnb territory - all while maintaining an oddly human feeling to the synths and melodies.
Shakers - I need you to know
Part of me wants to call Shakers’ I need you to know a “no-frills” kind of album, but that’s not entirely true. This Wiesbaden, Germany act play the kind of post-hardcore/emotional-hardcore that you know and well (I haven’t looked at reviews, but I’m willing to bet there are a number of them that name-check Touché Amoré) and while they may not stick out like a sore thumb, innovation-wise, they make up for it in passion and melody. In particular, there’s a moody distance to some songs, and when paired with the thick-bass, math-y guitar lines and bursts of blast-beats it all just feels… effective. Like a feel-good feel-bad kind of record to some degree? A comfortable mope? Anyway, I’m keeping an eye on what Shakers do next, that’s for sure.
Nuvolascura - As We Suffer From Memory & Imagination
Nuvolascura’s As We Suffer From Memory & Imagination is a relentless screamo/emoviolence release in a year where there were a lot of dope screamo records. This is one of those albums where every little piece of expected genre elements is present, but executed so perfectly and somehow with modern flair and experimentation that pushes it all over the top. The start-stop structures, bursts of grindcore-intensity, math-rock guitar lines, post-rock ambience, an incredibly vocal performance on top of a brutal drum performance that can alternate from jazzy fills to crushing weight in an instant. It’s all here, but done so well it feels refreshing.
BUMPER - pop songs 2020
I’m a huge fan of Crying (hey, the band is good too heyyyyyooo) and personally I feel like Ryan Galloway is an unsung force in music right now. When I heard Ryan was teaming up with Michelle Zauner for an EP of pop songs, I was beyond excited. I wondered what a collaboration between one brilliant vocalist and the person who during a Twitch stream recommended I listen to Airplay would sound like. Well, it’s a delightful mix of modern and vintage pop, with some vgm vibes in there for good measure… and all four songs are perfect. I hope there’s more on the horizon from BUMPER.
PROTODOME - 4000ad
How often does is an album groundbreaking or mind-blowing, and also just full of actually great songs? Plenty of examples throughout history of incredibly proficient musicians with albums you don’t actually want to listen to, I’m sure. Enter PROTODOME’s 4000ad EP of 1-bit chiptune. Yes, 1-bit. I’ve long been a fan of the video game composer Tim Follin, and in the ZX Spectrum days they were known to squeeze a lot out of 1-bit. This has always fascinated me: somehow finding the ability to pull entire worlds of sound out of a single bit.
This release from PROTODOME takes that approach and creates a fully realized album that sounds like the universe’s tiniest, funkiest prog-rock supergroup are jamming on a microscopic computer chip. PROTODOME uses a “purpose-built beeper MML compiler” and something called the “pulse interleaving method” which “basically rapidly arpeggiates at speeds faster than than human hearing.” Oh yeah? Well fuck… it sounds good to me.
Lower Depths - Purification Through Self-Sacrifice
Here’s 23 minutes of thoroughly impressive metallic hardcore that checks a number of crossover boxes; think thrashy, sludgy hardcore and death metal with just the right amount of heavy grooves to satisfy.
Thibault - Or Not Thibault
This is maybe my least-listened-to album on the list, but I had to include it because every time I spun Or Not Thibault I just fell head-over-heels for the sound of the whole record. I’ve found myself in a bit of a rut these days - skewing so heavily towards dudes-n-hooks music, where I used to be much more into getting out of my comfort zone. Not that Thibault is that big of a leap, their music is gorgeous and sits right alongside some of my favourite acts like The Soundcarriers, Death & Vanilla, Broadcast, Stereolab, etc. But, really, how can I not put this on my list when it’s filled with songs like “Drama,” “Late Expectations” or “See The World”? This is a record to get lost inside.
Tapeworms - Funtastic
This one came my way thanks to the aforementioned Turntable Report. It wasn’t on my radar at all, but immediately the one-two punch of “Next Time (Maybe)” (with its warbling fuzz and shoegazed melodies) abd “Safety Crash” (featuring sci-fi laser punctuations and jangling, spiralingly dense pop) had me hooked.
lowercase roses - Titanic Planet
Matthew Scheuermann of The Sidekicks has been releasing music as lowercase roses for about six years, but Titanic Planet is a bit of a different beast compared to their previous output; it’s bigger, louder, more ambitious and ultimately an incredibly satisfying mix of introspective bedroom pop and big, driving rock songs. Take “Two Dogs” for example, which has the kind of melody you could imagine Scheuermann humming and strumming along in a corner alone, but with the full band production it’s a total anthem. That’s a hard balance to strike, but Scheuermann does it again and again.
Trace Mountains - Lost in the Country
A Partner to Lean On landed on my 2018 year-end list, so I knew I was likely going to dig the latest from Dave Benton. I had a weird on-and-off relationship with Lost in the Country though, as it didn’t hit me as immediately as Partner. I kept coming back though, and over the year it ended up being something of a sleeper hit personally. It’s a bit more straightforward than Partner, there’s maybe less overt experimentation but it manages to be adventurous in other more subtle ways, like on the skittering country song “Dog Country.”
That’s it, that’s all. Be excellent to one other.