Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Warm some cider, throw a log on the fire, and settle in for the epic tale of 'The Christmas Socks.'

Last weekend's Saturday Night Live had a real high school "let's put on a show!" vibe to it in the face of the rise of the Omicron variant. Since they had to lean on pre-taped sketches we lost the planned musical performances from Charli XCX, but we were gifted a lot of weird in the show when it came to new material. Given that I tend to really enjoy the oddball sketches that tend to sit near the tail-end end of the show's runtime,  I was fully welcoming of the weird.

And an unexpected bonus? While we didn't get a live Charli XCX performance, we did get a new, timeless holiday classic, featuring some unforgettable fly-by support from Ms. XCX.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Kady Rain is definitely someone to look forward to hearing more of in 2022!

Photo via Kady Rain's Facebook page

As 2021 draws to a close, albums coming in 2022 are already occupying my mind, and Kady Rain's self-titled full-length debut is one thing you should definitely have on your radar in the new year.

Kady Rain is from Austin, and is a bit of a musical chameleon as far as being able to bend disparate sounds to both her unique will and sense of fun. So that means Kady Rain is full of hooks and big ol' sing-along pop choruses, but it's been a while since I heard someone force the genre to fit their needs so well. That is to say, there is nothing prefabricated about this sound, and I suspect Rain's tunes would sound just as impressive whether she's singing them to a backing track or was performing with a three-piece rock band. In either scenario, I think her sound would prevail.

The first single from the debut, "Got Away," was released a few months ago, but I'm guessing it will probably be as new to you as it was to me just a day ago. On "Got Away," Rain flexes a little more rock than pop, and it's an excellent example of how dizzying a ride her voice can take you on. In general, the album skews a little more pop than this, but the swagger and attitude remains, no matter the sound of the song.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this taste of Kady Rain ahead of the album's January 21, 2022 release.

Monday, December 20, 2021

My spoiler-free review of 'Spider-Man: No Way Home!'

It is impossible to talk about this movie without spoiling it! And given the current climate it's probably going to take a while for people who really want to see this movie to do so. So I'm actually keeping my trap shut on the review front for now, but if you haven't seen it, you are in for a real treat. And if you have—I'm dying to talk about it, so let me know!

I will say this, this is the first time in two years I felt I really saw a movie movie on the big screen. It felt like ... home?

The times are right for a 'Slow Xmas.'

This time of year the air is filled with holiday music. For just under one month—for those of us in the more rational camp of thinking—sleigh bells and warm fires rule the musical roost. It's also the time of year for about a zillion holiday music compilations, and while I am definitely the sort to play Vince Guaraldi on Christmas morning, I'm always looking for ways to freshen up the mix. We can't all be Andy Cirzan, y'know.

Yesterday, as I was listening to my usual Sunday morning podcast, I learned of Slow Xmas, a compilation of holiday tunes by current artists that follows a definite theme but is throwing their heart into it. When a cacophonous group that is often barely able to contain the musical maelstrom they are capable of creating  like Gymshorts turns in a version of "The Chipmunk Song" that feels more like a hymn than a joke, you know you're onto something a little different when it comes to conjuring the holiday spirit.

So here you go, a greatest holiday hits compilation from an alternate universe, Slow Xmas. Better yet? It's totally free to download!

Thursday, December 16, 2021

When bands collide—the exquisite beauty of Polyvinyl's 'Exquisite Corpse.'

Last fall, Polyvinyl released a truly interesting collaborative compilation featuring many of their past and present recording artists.

The liner notes describe the process used to create this album:
Eleven teams of four or five musicians were assembled more or less at random, bringing together artists that had in many cases never met, much less worked on music together. Remotely, each team worked from scratch to create an original song, a reworked sonic adaptation of the game where each player adds to a collaborative drawing. 
The results are ... really, really good. So good, in fact, I'm here writing about the album well over a year after its initial release! So if you missed this back when it came out—totally understandable—now's your chance to catch up with something exciting!

*Seriously. When else are you going to come across an album with various members of Pedro The Lion, American Football, Nick Wilkerson, Dragon Inn 3, Yumi Zouma, Pet Symmetry, Gus Lobban, Shugo Tokumaru, Diane Coffee, Will Knauer, Aloha, Volcano, I'm Still Excited!!, Jeff Rosenstock, Palehound, Rainer Maria, SNST, Vice Cooler, Wampire, Anamanaguchi, Xiu Xiu, Squirrel Flower, Fred Thomas, The Get Up Kids, Katy Goodman, Owen, Matt Pond PA, Keil Corcoran, Bob Nanna, Psychic Twin, Islands, Ladyhawke, Radiation City, Chris Farren, Post Animal, and Dusted randomly collaborating?

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Pom Pom Squad throws in their bid to be "Popular."

I know many may find this tidbit shocking, but once upon a time the band Nada Surf was considered a one-hit wonder. Decades later it's clear that was a clear underestimation of the band's depth of talent and longevity, but that never changed the fact that once upon a time they wrote a song that was ridiculously popular.

Um, I swear there was no pun intended there.

So it doesn't surprise me that Pom Pom Squad would cover the tune, years later, and keep its punch intact. Hell, the song is practically a part of the band's sonic DNA. Oh, and did I mention the cover includes Nada Surf's Matthew Caws as well? It's a nice little unexpected fun left turn from the band and a nice parting gift as we exit 2021.

Monday, December 13, 2021

Oh, how I miss travel.

Stunningly accurate, yet I still miss hotels like this after almost two years of being stuck within a few miles of Chicago. Also, I too would have a very difficult time keeping a straight face with Kate McKinnon in the same room, much less right next to me.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Get into something new with Old Joy's 'Trash Your Life.'

From what I can gather, Old Joy is Alex Reindl, aided by a troupe of likeminded musicians, and while Trash Your Life was recorded over a long-ish span of time, the result is a pretty tight album Reindl self-describes as "scum-pop." And I guess that's as fitting a descriptor as any. 

Reindl is clearly a fan of the scrappier yet melodic sides of guitar indie rock, but likes too keep you on your toes. For example, the opening of "Watcha Doin?" is basically a lift of Nirvana's "Sliver" before taking an abrupt left-turn into a more organic jam that feels like the band building on ideas in a practice space. And I think that vibe is very intentional as Old Joy seems happy to nod to influences without simply parroting them.

I've never met Reindl, but based on his lyrics and snippets of what I've learned of him over the past year, the most impressive thing about this album is how much it sounds like a joyful yawp when it could have been mired in much darker sounds. But the friction between the melody and the intent is what sets this apart from any other scum-pop album out there right now.

On top of all that, this album is basically a sonic love letter to what I would recognize as '80s to '90s underground alternative and indie. So duh, I like it. But there's a deepness to the sentiment that raises it above tribute into something all its own. Get into it!

Friday, December 03, 2021

It's Bandcamp Friday! Need a few suggestions? I've got 'em!

It's another Bandcamp Friday, which means the dough you spend on music today from that platform goes right to the artists. So here are a few more recent releases for you to consider picking up! This took a little longer than expected since a few albums dropping today I had planned to feature haven't shown up on Bandcamp yet. But there's tons of good stuff to consider below.


Touched By Ghoul is back! The Chicago band has been relatively quiet since 2016's Murder Circus, and they return with the blistering new collection Cancel The World. In the years since their last album it appears they've continued to tighten their focus while turning up the volume of the material, to create my favorite album from them thus far. Do not sleep on this! It's out today.

This is one album that's been out for a few months and I am ecstatic it finally made it onto Bandcamp! When Naked Raygun's first new album in decades, Over The Overlords, was released earlier this year, it was with little fanfare and was primarily available only through the Wax Trax! site.But now it's just a click away for immediate download (or ordering). GET IT NOW. I can't emphasize how amazing this album is, and am somewhat perplexed it hasn't made a bigger splash this year. Hopefully its wider availability will help.

Some bands say they embrace all genres of music, while few actually do. With Pepe Deluxé's Phantom Cabinet Vol. 1, the band proves their dedication to the whole no musical boundaries thing to deliver a genre-agnsotic shapeshifter of an album. Soul, carnival music, rock, theater, funk, dub, electronic dance, and just about everything else you can imagine makes an appearance. They may have had electronic roots at some point, but now  Pepe Deluxé have become archival constructionists of mismatched sounds that blend when they shouldn't. Super fun.

I don't want to really describe Black Light Animals' Playboys Of The Western World to you, since that would rob you of the unexpected nature of the music within. But I will tell you this band creates beautiful, multi-layered, transporting soundscapes while still hitting all the melodic needs of the soul. Really nice stuff.

I saw You, Me, And Everyone We Know play a few months ago and never reviewed the show because I simply didn't have anything positive to say about the band's live performance. Which has bugged me since I think their "comeback" album Something Heavy is so freaking tight! The album comes across as a theater kid who can absolutely slay a power-pop tune, and was the complete opposite of their concert vibe. So I guess I'm suggesting you give this a spin but don't pin your hopes in seeing these songs come satisfyingly to life in a live set any time soon.

Thursday, December 02, 2021

Eschewing modesty for exuberant pop, The Modesty Blaise returned in 2021!

As we head into December and I am finally fully caught up on listening to all the 2021 releases that have come my way, I'm revisiting music I listened to waaaaaaay back at the beginning of the year to see how it holds up without any recency bias. Which brings us to Modesty Blaise's fist album in over 20 years, The Modesty Blaise, released last March. 

Fist of all, this is all very 1998 Britpop-sounding, which is oddly comforting but hardly surprising given the two decades of down time between LPs.* 

And the songs on The Modesty Blaise are exquisite, whether featuring whirring mixes of bass, horns, and whizzing synths on something like "Catwalk Queens," or getting downright glittery retro on something like "Rollerdisco." But overall this is a work of pristinely produced pop, much of it the jangly variety but with plenty of fuzz thrown in to keep things rockin'.

So does it still hold up? Hell yeah!

*And, you know, they are British.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Chase away any winter blahs with Pip Blom.

Photo by Erik Smits
When I first listened to the new Pip Blom album Welcome Break, I was like, "Oh cool, another band that seems to have grown up on Matador '90s records!"

Seriously, I don't think that label gets enough credit for the current sound sweeping the digital airwaves these days. But as a dude who lived through that time and loves all that music, I can think of far worse role models to musically emulate.

As I've dug into Welcome Break more and more over the last few weeks, the album only grows stronger, in my estimation. I'm sure Pip Blom being based in the Netherlands helps, allowing them to approach their music from a slightly different cultural lens, injecting a new vibrancy into this sound so familiar to me.

Plus, if you live in the U.S., I wanted to send you into your holiday with an album you can listen to over and over (and over, if needed) again on the train / plane / automobile ride to your chosen family gathering.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Crossing that fine line to discover unexpected release, happiness, and humanity.

One of my happy places during the pandemic.
I probably don't listen to music like you do. I mean, I do, but I don't.* Anyway, one of the benefits of digging through and listening to hundreds upon hundreds of new albums each year is coming across something like Nation Of Language's "Across That Fine Line." When you listen to that much music, most of it starts to fade into a singular tone, well executed and worthy of respect, if not always transformative or mind-blowing. And then, every once in a while, a simple song cuts through it all with an electrical charge that knocks you backward and fills you with hope, and life.

The honest yearning every time the guitars kick in and the vocals struggle upward in their minor key—that combination just sounds so ... alive. Like the kind of alive you remember and relate to and exudes a steady current. The crisp moment that sticks with you. It's a slice through the fabric of normalcy to reveal the magic that lies underneath our world. It's always there, but sometimes we need help to see it.

*I've never quite figured out if it's my ability to forget that fact, or my ability to live inside it that's helped define my voice over the years. Sorry, I didn't expect to think that right here, but I also didn't plan on writing the line that triggered this avalanche of thoughts either. Though, really, this footnote is less an avalanche and more a solo tumble down the hillside, so you probably don't care either way.

Monday, November 22, 2021

What's next? How about an early morning thought-ramble.

Some days you are filled with concrete and discrete thoughts about single artists, and other days are ... well, a Monday. So let's just take a poke around and see what's in the ol' noggin' this morning.

Photo of Sting (possibly) judging me  
by Eric Ryan Anderson
Over the weekend I listened to the new Sting album The Bridge and was surprised by just how easy the whole thing went down.* And I realized that Sting’s superpower these days is writing songs that go down easy but that also feature complicated constructions at their core. But in the hands of someone like Sting, those flourishes feel so natural and normal I no longer feel his solo music is nearly as self-absorbed as it used to be. Or maybe I’m just getting old.

Speaking of getting old, I also can’t shake the feeling that there is something big just around the corner in the music world that will shake things up again. We haven’t reached this level of complacency with the mainstream output in the music world since the late ‘80s (IMHO) and there’s a certain restlessness that is beginning to grow. And I think the pandemic’s removal of most of the magic and glitz surrounding “big” releases is owed partial credit for this.

So what’ll happen? I dunno. But I think you’re gonna see the current status quo attained by many mainstream musicians (both in the pop and so-called indie realms) erode in the next two years as more immediate and vibrant acts grow to take over the conversation. 

Our world is being rebuilt around us. Some want to hold onto and return to the status quo, but that expired status quo is no longer rooted in anything other than previous corporate gatekeepers’ best interests, so I don’t know about you, but I am excited and hopeful to see what comes next.

*I really do listen to anything sent my way at least once. In the case of albums like Sting's, I have fund late evening listening works best. Music life that use dissolves in my head when it's pumped out in the daylight. Great, it looks like my thought-rambles extend to footnotes now? Aren't these things supposed to further clarify?!

Thursday, November 18, 2021

I've got zero "Problems" with Neal Francis, aside from not discovering his talents earlier.

A brief tale: I got a couple press releases for this album, but never asked for a download so I never gave it a listen and it kind of flew past me. Until I read a friend's Facebook post lavishing praise on this album, which isn't something that would often sway me, but in this instance said friend has a historically sharp taste in music so when something really flips their lid, I'm all ears. So imagine my shock and surprise to discover not only is this album a-MAZE-ing, but the cat who created it is from Chicago!* Though it appears he was in funk bands during a time period I was largely unaware of any developments in that particular scene, so I guess I can be forgiven for being unfamiliar with Neal Francis' work before now.**

I've listened to the album enough to fall in love with it, but not enough to tell you exactly why I love it, so for now I gift you this video released earlier today to give you an idea of Francis' look and sound. And below you will find a link to his new album In Plain Sight for your listening enjoyment while I work out my feelings for you to peruse at a later date. Perhaps before his January 14, 2022 show at Thalia Hall? Until then, enjoy! 

And yes, I did order this LP on snazzy red vinyl earlier this week .. which actually gives me a closer to my brief tale! Because the day after I bought it, a download of the album was sent to me by his team—without me asking for it. So I take that as a sign I was destined to hear it!

*Wait! you are asking, who is this "cat?" Read the next sentence and not this footnote and you'll find out!
**In full transparency, Neal looks really really familiar to me, and I'm half expecting to get a message from a friend after posting this saying, "Dude, you've seen a dozen bands he's been in over the years," so if that happens ... um, sorry?

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Gal Gun delivers a 'Critical Hit!'

Oh, hey there! I did a little write-up about Chicago band Gal Gun's latest album Critical Hit over at Third Coast Review ahead of their show at Liar's Club tonight (a show you you should totally catch if you live in Chicago) so I hope you read my piece, but I hope even more you give the album a spin! But you have to click the link above to do either. Motivation!

The photo in this post is the promo shot for the vinyl version of Critical Hit, because whoever photographed that did a much better job of staging the LP and all its goodies than I could with my own copy. 

But I can definitely confirm it's worth it if you can afford to lay down a few extra bucks to own a physical versus digital version of the album!

Tuesday, November 09, 2021

It's a new release ... Tuesday?! The Kickback and Glimmer have both just released pretty spectacular songs.

Wait, what?! New music on a Tuesday? What year is this anyway? I kid, of course, and to an old like me, Tuesday was long the day for new music.* While the headline is cheeky, I am actually quite excited about the two new songs debuting today that I'm sharing with you.

First up, we have locals The Kickback, whose recent return from a long hiatus that I recently celebrated continues with their latest song, "Kare." As I hinted a few weeks ago, the fact the band is intentionally releasing new music a single song at a time is directly tied (in my mind) to the dense construction of each song. "Kare" sounds 100% like The Kickback, though I can see why longtime fans might be a little more confused by the band's shift in direction from straightforward rocking and/or rolling. But this not only makes total sense to me, this is a completely natural progression for the group. 

Next up, Jeff Arthur is better known to longtime readers and the front person for Dead Stars, one of my favorite groups to come out of NYC in the past couple years. Like just about every other band on the planet, Dead Stars hit a bit of a roadblock during the pandemic, so Arthur decided to make some of his own truly solo tunes under the Glimmer moniker after a yearlong break from music. On "Breathe" he plays all the instruments and recorded the tune in his home studio, and it doesn't sound terribly different than the work in Dead Stars. Which is to say, melodic yet heavy guitars and killer melodies, so it's pretty great.

*Also, I would not complain if the industry ever decided to move new releases back to Tuesdays. Maybe this is the start of a small but stubborn movement? O.K., "movement" may be wishful thinking, but you get it. And wouldn't you rather have time to sit and live with new albums throughout the week instead of shoving them into your earholes every Friday to get them in before the weekend?

Thursday, November 04, 2021

Don't bother asking which person in Penelope Isles is Penelope because the answer is none of them, but do bother with their excellent new album!

The first thing I noticed about Penelope Isles' new LP Which Way To Happy was how lovely the singers' voices complemented each other. Then I actually read the press release and OF COURSE this UK band's core is the sibling team of Lily and Jack Wolter.* Blood always blends best when it comes to vocals. You can't beat it.

But wait, there's more!

This whole album is chock full of light and bright guitar stuff—there's a shiny and clear vibe to their sound that often feels like the music is expanding upward to embrace the sun and clouds. But it's also grounded—the tunes aspire to reach the heavens, but there's enough heft and grit to keep your footing as you traverse their dizzying heights. If you're looking for something buzzy and effervescent with a bit of weight, this is it.

The album will be released tomorrow, November 5, so don't miss out!

*I'll scan press releases for a little context before listening to albums, but if the band is truly new to me I prefer to go in blind, and then read up after they've made their first impression. I don't want you thinking I wouldn't research something I'll eventually write about at all!

Friday, October 29, 2021

Maggie Gently gives you a first taste of 'Peppermint.'

Maggie Gently’s debut LP Peppermint won't be out until sometime early next year, but she recently released the album's first single, "Hold My Hand."* 

More on Peppermint at a later date, but chugging guitars and Gently's sweet yet strong vocals propel "Hold My Hand," while the lyrics pop and sparkle as they investigate the stirrings of affection as the protagonist slowly grows comfortable with their own romantic feelings for another. 

I love how the song follows the short journey from two eyes furtively catching each other's stare from across a room, to the narrator's final refrain of "No, I’m not afraid to tell you everything I’m feeling now." It's a song about falling in love and unlocking that kind of freedom with another human being. 

And it hits hard these days. I could certainly use more tales like this to help get me through these trying times!

The video is above for the more visually inclined, but if you wanna add "Hold My Hand" to your collection, you can snag it below as well.

*Yes, when you read that song title, you immediately thought of Hootie And The Blowfish, didn't you? You want to say The Beatles, but it was Hootie. Admit it!)

Friday, October 22, 2021

The Kickback returns, one song at a time.

After a long hiatus for the band, The Kickback has started to make noise publicly again. Currently, the group is releasing a single track of new music at a time, and as I hear more music from this stage of the band's evolution, I can tell you that sitting with "PreshMo" and really digging into it gives you some tantalizing clues about where the band is headed. And singer/guitarist Billy Yost's work as Billy Ghost has given the band a whole bunch of new toys to color their songs with. 

This is just the beginning, so get your ears wet and strap in for a long ride.

I know I can't wait to hear where this goes next!

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Where S. Raekwon is at now is both intriguing and rewarding.

Photo by Daniel Dorsa
I've heard S. Raekwon's name* floating around, but that was the extent of my awareness heading into his latest album Where I'm At Now. So I'm not sure how to describe this combination of soulful kinda-sorta R&B running smack dab into singer/songwriter acoustic performance conventions and a variety of other bits and bobs thrown in for good measure.

O.K., I guess I just tried to. But that doesn't capture the magic of this album. I went in with no expectations, so when the music within started to lift my soul it felt akin to a carnival ride that suddenly shoots you into the sky, seconds after the attendant confirms you're safely strapped in. Your stomach is far behind, but your brain is whirling and buzzing as you momentarily float at the apex, and it's a whole bunch of things you're feeling up there.

So I think this is one of those album that, if I spend a ton of time really trying to explain its strengths to you, might rob you of some of the wonderful sense of discovery listening to this should engender.

Stream it for free below, but at only $3, I can't see why you wouldn't just download it for keeps. Either way, you'll win and have some new vibez in your ears to add addtitional color to the shifting seasons outside your window this morning. Where S. Raekwon is at now is definitely an excellent place to visit.

*Full name: Steven Raekwon Reynolds, in case you're curious.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

And now for something completely expected, and exciting!

Well, you knew I had to post this, right? I mean, I don't even need to write an entry for it, since I tweeted about it months ago!

Sunday, October 17, 2021

And now for something completely different, courtesy Natalie Jane Hill.

Photo by Julian Neel

I am not a "folk" kinda person in general. Unfortunately these days what most people (folks? HA!) call "folk" is really just anodyne singer-songwriter with an acoustic guitar stuff, and that often bores me. But when I come across a true folk album, it makes my ears perk up!

Natalie Jane Hill's new album Solely is folk music done right.

Solely has an otherworldly patina, and sounds like it was plucked from a sunny meadow covered in hazy early '70s shade. And Hill's voice is just so emotive and raw and full while somehow staying smooth in delivery, even at its most emotionally fragile. And the musical accompaniment is super minimal yet somehow fills all the surrounding space, enveloping you in the allure of Hill's artistic vision. It's simple and uncomplicated, but incredibly effective. 

Saturday, October 16, 2021

You won't be stuck in neutral forever.

Let's start with the positive. A thing that has really helped me stay afloat mentally over the last 18 months.

I'm grateful I've been employed throughout the pandemic, since it's given me some level of continuous connection with other people, and kept me incredibly busy creating exciting things. So I've felt incredibly productive in, and proud of, my professional creative life. I can not state strongly enough how much my job has been a positive element in my life, overall.

But my personal creative life? That's a little different.

Much of the time I feel stuck in neutral. The gears are whirring and the motor is revving, but there's no forward momentum. So many ideas, all fighting for a way out of a brain that twists and turns and examines all these things on long, rambling walks through my city. So it's created a huge cathedral of possibilities in my mind, but I'm often stuck on how to get those ideas out of my head.* And the varying states of limbo I've been stuck in for going on 2 years now is, well, starting to concern me. Is there an exit? A way out? Will I ever get back to "normal?"

I think all the answers to all those queries are: kinda? 

There has to be an exit, or demarcation line, or "other side" I've yet to reach. So there must be a way out of this. But I think the answer to the last question of "getting back to normal" is a definitive no and yes. Will I ever get back to the life I once had? Nope. But I will find a new "normal." I mean, so far, this is the new normal, right? And it's different than what I thought was "normal" a few months ago, and even more different than what I thought was "normal" a few years ago. It's obvious, but easily forgotten.

But being stuck in limbo this long has made me question my strengths. Or supposed strengths. Or the things I thought were important to my own composition.**

The cruelest joke is I thought I had my midlife crisis years ago, so I wasn't expecting to encounter a new existential crisis after that! But, and I know this sounds like a cliche but I truly believe it now, I am exactly where I'm supposed to be right now. Whether or not I know why isn't important any longer—I've just accepted that the life I'm leading is supposed to travel along this pathway, so I'm doing the best with what I've got.

Sorry, this isn't supposed to be a bummer. I've been more private over the last few years for a variety of reasons, but I still think it's important to be transparent about stuff like this. Especially if you're reading this and identifying with fractions or all of what I'm describing—you know you're not alone.

And knowing you're not alone in a world where you see friends or family, like, once a month or even less often, is vitally important. 

And if you're reading this, you're definitely not alone. 

And I appreciate you.

I truly, truly do!

*I can't emphasize enough how much I've discovered my prodigious levels of output in the last 30 years relied on talking through ideas with people, whether they (or I!) were aware of it or not. There's a reason I could kick out 3000 words on an event that happened hours before: all the work was done in my head and bounced off any number of human sounding boards ahead of time. The act of writing is a solitary affair, and while the thinking that goes into it can be done in isolation that's not nearly as strong as thinking vetted by other humans with their own thoughts and perspective to help inform my own conclusions. 

**As in the composition of the person as a whole, not my composition skills that lead to what you're reading. If there's one thing that hasn't changed it's that I can still write up a storm. And it's something I always feel the burning need to do. I just rarely want to these days. You know?

Thursday, October 07, 2021

FUR walks the fine line of a quiet life then turns it UP!

I was walking down the street when "The Fine Line of a Quiet Life" burst into my ears and I had to stop for a second and just luxuriate in it.

FUR's debut When You Walk Away isn't out until next month, but I think you're gonna dig it. The UK band hails from Brighton, though until I learned that you could've convinced me they were bouncing around Williamsburg, entering our era through a rip in time whose entry point was c. 2002 NYC.

Since it's still about a month off I don't want you to get too excited about something you can't hear in its entirety yet. But I think this "The Fine Line of a Quiet Life" will be more than enough to draw you in. And keep you salivating for more. And, don't worry, the more you are salivating for? It is worth the wait.

Friday, October 01, 2021

Soak in the innerdimensional grooves of Foamboy's debut.

Katy Ohsiek and Wil Bakula make up Portland's Foamboy, and they've created one of the more transporting albums of the year thus far.

The duo's debut, My Sober Dayrdream, is chock full of woozy, whoosh-y mellow pop stuff. It's catchy even if it sounds like it's stitched together by a bunch of components that simply shouldn't fit together. Drums meander and then machine gun; bloops and blorps of fat synth bass plops in and out of the mix; and Ohsiek's sweetly but knowingly delivered vocals slide above it all, as other voices poke in and out of the mix to add dizzying layers to slip and slide around in as you listen.

When I listen to this album I go to an interior space that feels suffused with Spring sunshine, rimmed by darker clouds of sly, sultry funk. It's a nice spot to escape to from time to time.

The album is pay-what-you-want or free right now, so you have no excuse not to give it a try, right? Get lost in their innerdimensional travels and let me know what sights you see along the way.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The 21st of September!

Almost missed this one this year! And it's reportedly the last time he's doing this, so if that's true, he's going out in epic style. Enjoy!

Monday, September 13, 2021

Rockin' My Turntable in 2020.

I know it's a break from tradition to use album covers instead of my yearly turntable image, but...

Hey, at least this one isn't as late as my 2018 list, right? I honestly debated even doing this list since I think most of us can agree that music in 2020 was downright weird.* Indie musicians' careers halted just as they were starting to blast off, huge names in the music biz released hotly anticipated albums that were swiftly forgotten in the midst of a pandemic, and both me and the entire planet had to deal with a constantly shifting internal emotional landscape. And let me tell you, none of that is conducive to my usual approach to these lists. So this one is an oddity that I'm posting here more for posterity than as some sort of actual critical read on the year as a whole.

I did just take a spin through the albums on ye olde tankPHONE that are still in there from last year, and there are quite a few I still listen to that aren't on this list.** But when I started winnowing this down the only real mental metric I could apply was that these were albums I could reliably turn to that made me feel during a period of time when I wasn't certain I could feel at all, or ever again.

Also of note: I usually stick with 20 albums a year, but this list is a little longer since some releases are grouped together for various reasons that will make sense as you read along. I've also written this over the span of months, when I could harness the energy to do so. So I ask that you forgive me if it feels like a slightly less cohesive style of writing than I'd usually employ on something like a year-end list. But hey, slow and steady at least got this eventually finished, right?

Also also of note? I've tried to use Bandcamp over Spotify embeds whenever possible, but a bunch of these ain't on Bandcamp, and I'd rather you can easily sample the tunes, even if it's via one of my less favorite streaming services.

Let's do this!


Local H released an absolute crusher of an album that got great reviews and showcased Scott Lucas' uncanny ability to merge melody with walls of crushing noise held aloft by Ryan Harding's thunderous drumming. It also continued Lucas' string of albums that never flag in quality while still pushing against the boundaries of what is expected from Local H. Anyone writing this band off as a nostalgia act, or '90s revival is really cheating themselves out of listening to one of the most consistent songwriters of his generation. Well, any generation, actually. I don't know how Lucas keeps this up, but I'm truly glad he's a "lifer." 

Lucas also deserves bonus points for launching one of the best podcasts to debut during the pandemic. 


The High Water Marks are based in Norway, but the heart of the band is frontperson Hilarie Sidney. You may recognizer that name if you're familiar with The Apples In Stereo through her years with that band, but she takes center stage and dishes out a ton of sharp indie rock-n-pop tunes over the duration of Ecstasy Rhymes. A little burst of sunshine that helped me get through the year. 


This album is a force of nature. It knocked me on my ass. It is one of the rawest, strongest conduits to a mindset I find both awe-inspiring and incredibly bracing. In a year that threatened to crush the human condition, Fiona Apple gave us her most human album of her career and it will stand as one of the great artistic statements of this decade. Lots of other people have written about this far more intelligently than I ever could, so I'll leave it at that. But wow.


I felt so bad for Joe Wong last year. He had an excellent podcast talking to other musicians, and was clearly very excited about the release of this album. And then the pandemic crushed all that excitement and Wong withdrew from podcasting more and more as the months went by, and I can't shake the feeling this album's release to a world that wasn't exactly embracing new music is to blame. But it's a lovely collection of finely crafted songs that walk the line between orch pop and full-blown '70s Cali-coast revival. And if you grab the version with the extra disc of instrumentals you can really sink into the craftsmanship. I really hope this album gets a second chance if Wong ever tours behind it, but I also can't imagine how dispiriting it would be to have to tour an album that is already years old.


This was my go-to guitar album when I wanted to float on pillows of sound. It never failed to at least transport me to another place, even if it couldn't always cheer me up. But hell, little could be depended to cheer anyone up last year. Right?


Thank GAWD The Struts managed to cobble together a pandemic album that still sounded like The Struts. Which is to say an over-the-top joyous blast of glam-pop-and-roll. When I needed epic stadium sounds in my ears during my looooong neighborhood walks, this often put a smile on my face for the duration.

Not to get too cliché, but this album made the days feel less strange, at least for a few minutes.


Elevator pitch? Sonically, this is basically '80s Hall & Oates meets Phil Collins, with a touch of Steely Dan, but not enough Steely Dan to annoy the hell out of me. It was possibly my breakout vibez album of the year. As far as being an unexpected pleasure with vibez that seemingly sprouted from nowhere. 


These three are grouped together because they all fit particular emotional needs at particular times, and seemingly were released in perfect rhythm with those internal needs. Dua Lipa's Future Nostalgia got TONS of play, letting me disappear to a virtual club of smart pop that would spur me to dance, no matter where I was. Luckily it was during the height of lockdown, so only a few people were exposed to my bad dance moves during my walks. Then, as the juice from Future Nostalgia might have started to lose its potency, Kylie Minogue stepped in with Disco to keep the party going, as I gained hope things might be looking up. They weren't. And that's why Annie's Dark Hearts hit the spot a little later, giving me a spot of darkness to disappear into for my internal dance parties. The mood was darker, the tone was heavier, but after I let them sink in, the rhythms and melodies proved incredibly therapeutic. And by year's end I had three nigh perfect pop albums I could rely on that had lost none of their punch.


Both of these albums are brimming with life and energy and are just, quite simply, both incredibly beautiful and incredibly inspirational. They are two rather different groups, but both have the collective effect of lifting you up while making you think. Wonderful.


Call me basic, I don't care. This was fucking great. And, finally, a return to The Killers producing killer albums again instead of killer collections of a few singles with a bunch of aimless filler.


I felt like I had to wait for forEVer for a new album from my faves The Sounds, so I'm grateful they had the grace to exceed those high expectations. Pure dance rock bliss. And, of course, it came out when they couldn't promote it, because if they had, this would've been one of the albums everyone was talking about later in the year. They're touring now, so hopefully this catches fire before the end of 2021!


Speaking of waiting forever for a new album...

But it was worth the wait, and I found the sonic tapestries to be miles ahead of their earlier output, creating a fully realized vision and album whose squishy, squooshy tunes molded to fit every nook and cranny of my brain that needed occupying.


The last show I saw in 2020 was March 12. This was the bill. And both albums are tremendous, really. And act as counterparts to each other. And I have some complicated feelings about of Montreal at times, but UR Fun was one of the most, erm, fun albums Kevin Barnes and crew released in years. And of course, that night I had a feeling things were about to change, but I didn't realize quite how much they would be changing! So these two albums not only serve as standout releases, but as a very clear marker of time for me, now.


Kid Sister is connected to these cats, so there is a Chicago connection here. But I prefer the band being mostly shrouded in mystery since I'm content to focus on their unnerving blend of classic soul sounds with the sounds of today to create a living, breathing masterpiece of an album.


Whoa whoa whoa! Maybe the best back to basics super-charged rock album of the year. Still takes my breath away and makes me smile every time I put it on.


Every year needs a few out-of-the-blue indie discoveries, and these two hit that spot dead center. 2nd Grade mined the more twee side of things while Supercrush went straight for the power-pop jugular with its fuzzy attack. Both are totally great.


2020 should have also been Sabrina Ellis' breakout year. She's not new to the scene by any means, but her more traditional rock band Sweet Spirit released the catchiest and tightest album thus far, and she teamed up with Har Mar Superstar on the modern-day soul project Heart Bones. Add this to her ferocious fronting of noise-sters A Giant Dog and you have an artist who can front any genre of band without ever losing any of her particularly unique wild energy. Clearly I hold her collaborators in all these projects in high esteem as well, but heck, the through line is all Ellis, and she amplifies the efforts of everyone around her. It's stunning.


Epic. Anthemic. Full of life. And definitely filed under where did THEY come from?! I'd never heard of Fire In The Radio before last year, and even upon first listen was like, is this cheesy? But on a second listen I realized this is not cheesy, it's just broadly, earnestly ambitious, and I've gotten used to not hearing a lot of that these days.


These are all Chicago bands, many of whom I've long championed. Well, long being a relative term since a few are still early in their respective musical careers. But the thing they all have in common? All four of these albums would have broken them big on the national stage in 2020, and the fact everything ground to a halt cost all of them valuable momentum. These wold be standouts in any year, so it's particularly vexing they've mostly been forgotten as the bands have all apparently moved onto new music. Hopefully that magic moment is still right around the corner for all four.


I wanted to end this list on a really high note.

In an era where surprise album drops are the norm, it takes a lot for an unexpected album drop to actually surprise me. But Scott Masson did just that with this mammoth beast stuffed with hooks and songs that just flowed all over, submerging me in their beauty. It's not "pretty" music, but it is catchy. It's not "sad" music, but it is emotional. What it is, is epic. I honestly didn't think Masson would ever return to something this polished and grandly rock and/or roll after OFFICE disbanded and he traveled down far more esoteric musical paths. But he did and I'm shocked and it's magnificent. If you only pick up a single album from an artist you are less familiar with on this list, this is the one to get.

*Holy understatement, Batman! Right?
**I wrote this sentence months ago, but a quick glance at the music on my phone shows this still holds true.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

20 years ago today.

There are three flashes of memory with images so clear and feelings so overwhelming that they haven't faded in 20 years. 
  1. Groggily picking up the phone after its ringing woke me up to hear my roommate's boyfriend worriedly asking if she'd left for work yet. I answered yes and was clearly confused by how upset he sounded until he finally said, "Oh god. You don't know. Turn on the TV right now." 
  2. Frantically biking under a bright blue sky in perfect weather, hunched over my handlebars to make myself as small a target as possible, terrified that an airplane would drop form the sky or explosions would go off or people would be shooting in the streets as I hurried to Photogal's condo. Early on we were all still terrified there would be more attacks taking other forms in other cities throughout the day. 
  3. Sitting in a parking lot that afternoon and waiting to give blood at a donation center because we felt we had to do something.

Thursday, September 09, 2021

Pearl & The Oysters is perfect for a crisp, chilly, late-summer day, hold the pumpkin spice.

Photo by Laura Moreau

Looking for a late-week jolt / pick-me-up? Then Pearl & The Oysters might be your thing.

This collection of crisp pop with a global touch—like ye olde school pop, francophone global-stylee) and really reminds me of April March and that musical contingent that burst forth for a brief spell in the late '90s.

That's it! Give it a listen, and buy if you enjoy it, or move along and check in later for another recommendation if you don't!

Thursday, September 02, 2021

Glam rawk 'n' roll straight to your ears from Sweden—it's Velvet Insane!

Velvet Insane's Rock 'n' Roll Glitter Suit is a big ol' batch of scrappy Swedish glam rawk that I can't get enough of it. I love it! 

I kept hoping they'd put it on Bandcamp so I could share the whole thing here (and make it even easier for you to pick up), but I don't think that's gonna happen. But this should give you an excellent idea of what to expect from the band and then—it is inevitable—you can go track down the full album to enjoy.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Rick White takes us all to "where it's fine" and man oh man it's a good place to be.

Eric's Trip was one of those bands I think I was supposed to get into at the time, but they just never really connected with me.* So imagine my surprise when I heard Rick White's name mentioned on a recent podcast, as the host gushed on and on about his recent solo release Where it's fine.** The raucous rockers they described certainly didn't fit alongside my own preconceived—and severely outdated—notions of the kid of music White is making these days.

So I checked it out. Gave a few tunes a listen. And plunked down my dough to download the full album minutes later.

Where it's fine uses a psychedelic hard pop approach, fusing the fuzz with solid grooves and mantra-like melodies, topped off by a drumming style that manages straightforward beats with a more tumble style with a loose swing that is more mesmerizing than metronomic. And from what I can tell, it's all White, all the time. The only credit I could find is a short note from White saying the album was "made from collected solo recordings I created in my home studio between the spring of 2020 and spring 2021."

I gotta say, for a pandemic album, this sure doesn't sound like it was recorded in isolation. So hop alongside White and take a trip through an expanded universe. We all need temporary mental islands to escape to these day, right?

The album is available to listen to for free or pay for the download below, but if you wanna get it on vinyl that's an option too.

*It was literally a timing thing. Had I heard Eric's Trip maybe a year later than I was first introduced to them (1991?) my opinion might've been very different.
**It was a podcast about Sloan, so I guess it's not surprising they'd be championing other Canadian rockers. So read that purely as my surprise at the particular rocker they were championing. Though I didn't know White had also recorded a cover of Sloan's Peppermint EP recently as well, and then it all made total sense to me.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

What does it sound like when a rainbow explodes overhead? mazie has the answer.

mazie's the rainbow cassette EP is a dizzying, kaleidoscopic production featuring short stabs of pop that rarely travel in expected directions. It's almost as if mazie consumed old psychedelic catalogs to help craft her own approach to the pop construct. Stay with me here, but whether or not it's intentional—and I have no idea if mazie has even heard of the band—some of this reminds me of Dukes Of Stratosphear. It doesn't really matter though, since this EP is 100% mazie, and after giving it a listen I think you'll agree the world needs more playful, technicolor experimental pop like this.

However you personally end up describing the rainbow cassette, I think every listener will agree that this EP is super fun and quirky and DARING. Sample it below and pick up a copy if it lands on you the way it did on me. 

I also see she's playing a show in Chicago in December, so snag a ticket to that too. I know I'm deeply curious to see how this translates to a live setting!

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Sink into some "Country Glory" with My Tree, my friend.

My Tree photo by Lauren Desberg

Great example of me sitting on an album until it's release and then completely missing the release date! As if that drives anything any longer these days. But still, better late than never!

Benjamin 'Jamal' Hoffmann and Caroline Davis are the core of My Tree (f.k.a. Maitri) and the duo specialize in ... I'm not exactly sure. Usually when you hear a band is genre-blending it's a misdirect because you're not sure how to categorize them, but in My Tree's case their mixture of soul, pop, off-kilter beats, and wild production touches all come together to create something I feel isn't hyperbolic to describe as unique to them. But it's all on glorious display on their new album, Where The Grace Is.

Usually I post a full album below, but today I'm just sharing their song "Country Glory" since it's probably the single tune that manages to pack much of what I consider distinctive to the band into its four minutes. Consider it the gateway to the rest of the album, because if you connect with this song, you'll love the entire album. And if you check out the full album, I highly recommend listening to the whole thing, uninterrupted, from start to finish and strapping in for the ride. You'll find yourself in weird headspaces, and if you aren't thrown pleasantly off-balance a few times by some of the sonic shifts, you haven't given yourself over completely to their world yet. And you should.