Queen City Sounds and Art Best Albums of 2020

Sex Swing | Type II | Rocket Recordings

This sprawling best of list was intended for publication in January 2021 but other priorities got in the way and I had written about many of these in brief in my year end best column for the December 2020 print edition of Birdy magazine in December. Others I wrote up for Birdy throughout the year. All of that text is here hopefully not in a form with my errors edited back in. At any rate it begins with what I’m going to call the album of the year, Type II by UK post-punk experimentalists Sex Swing. It not only stretched post-punk beyond the usual boundaries these days and it articulated the conflict, the outage and confusion of a world coming to terms with the great shortcomings of modern, international capitalism, the inadequacy of the conservative/far right and neoliberal government to address the needs of people across decades and most painfully and poignantly in the moment. That agony and anomie can be heard throughout the album but even separate from that context it’s just a great, experimental rock album. The original verbiage for the Birdy piece reads “An uncomromisingly mind-altering psychedelic noise rock ride through 2020 hell.” With any luck we’ll see the band in North America sooner than later and see for ourselves if the live show delivers. What follows is the rest of the best of list for 2020.

A.M. Pleasure Assassins | Careless Laughter | Self-released
This latest EP from Fort Collins-based, math-y post-punk band A.M. Pleasure Assassins sounds like it  was written after a long period of contemplation and self-imposed exile from one’s usual social activities. “Said Yer Outta Gas” is imbued with a rush of exuberance reflected in its words about emerging from winter into a period of new beginnings. “Get It Right” finds the band waxing into the warped garage punk territory like something one would expect out of Memphis, Tennessee the past two decades — raw and ragged yet bracing. “Cain Was Killing Abel” strikes a more contemplative tone and the sprawling “Pretty Dead Beat” creates a beautifully hypnotic pulse of sounds with bell tones processed through reverb and distorted drones for an effect like a late 90s Yo La Tengo track. The four songs give the impression of nostalgic reflection, but one where you see and feel deeply the joys and pains of a good time in your life  that you are wise enough now to know to enjoy in its full measure rather than through the lens of selective romanticism.

Abrams | Modern Ways | Sailor Records

Adulkt Life | Book of Curses | What’s Your Rupture?

ADULT. | Perception Is/As/Of Deception | Dais Records
Darkly urgent industrial dance anthems to purge today’s desperation, confusion and chaos.

Angel Olsen | Whole New Mess | Secretly Group
A tender yet bracingly fragile portrait of the realization that you can never adequately prepare for everything life might throw your way.

Anna von Hausswolff | Sacro Bosco | Southern Lord

A Shoreline Dream | Melting | Late Night Weeknight
With its first release since 2018’s Waitout EP, A Shoreline Dream presents a set of songs that seems less  ethereal than their previous output. From opening track “Turned Too Slow” to closing song “Atheris  Hispida” the progressive shoegaze duo has seemingly focused its attention on the texture and  physicality of the music. One is tempted to say the guitars are more like hard rock, but only if your idea of  hard rock is more in the vein of Swervedriver. But “Downstairs Sundays” has more in common with folk  music in its intricate guitar interplay though threading through an uplifting, introspective drone. A  Shoreline Dream still gives us its usual transporting melodies, but this time its astral realms are  more focused and vivid as though coming out of its musical dreamstate into a phase of making those  dreams real. 

Autechre | Sign | Warp Records
Cleanses the mind with textural tones and hypnotically immersive, abstract rhythms.

Bambara | Stray | Wharf Cat Records

Bestial Mouths | RESURRECTEDINBLACK | RUNE & RUIN

Bison Bone | Find Your Way Out | self-released

Black Wing | No Moon | The Flenser

blackcell | Burn the Ashes | self-released
Denver-based EBM/IDM band Blackcell returns with its first full- length album since 2013’s In the Key of  Black. Matt Jones’ processed, distorted vocals sound as ever like a dispossessed human resisting an ever increasing mechanization of life. These dark dance songs articulate so well the struggles of the human  condition and seem so resonant for today as meaningful choices and control over your own life are  leeched away into increasing labor defined by a gig economy, subscription and streaming services in the  modern equivalent of pay-per-view, and a failing political and economic system that has channeled all the  world’s wealth into fewer and fewer hands, nickeled and dimed to death and expected to take it like it is or  not to streamline the technocratic wealth pipeline. Blackcell offers no answers but this time, its Gary  Numan-esque end of the world techno feels particularly cathartic right now.  

BleakHeart | Dream Griever | Sailor Records

Body Double | Milk Fed | Zum
Vignettes of personal psychological horror expressed as seething, angular post-punk pop.

Body Negative | Fragments | Track Number Records

Bootblacks | Thin Skies | Artoffact Records
Soaring synths and guitar sketch a vivid image of a deep yearning for personal transcendence and rebirth.

Boris and Merzbow | 2R012P0 | Relapse Records
Alien soundscapes of stunning immediacy that challenge preconceptions of all artists involved.

Botanist | Photosynthesis | The Flenser

Cabaret Voltaire | Shadow of Fear | Mute

Camila Fuchs | Kids Talk Sun | Felte Records
Avant-garde, psychedelic synth pop for tropical vacations in parallel dimensions.

Causer | Hellebore: Demos | self-released

Chicano Batman | Invisible People | ATO Records
Un-ironic, un-corny psych Tropicalia love songs for an inclusive future of unified humanity.

Choir Boy | Gathering Swans | Dais Records
Every song is an introspective Goth R&B ode to radical self care.

Church Fire | Some Lonely Wip | self-released
This collection of “unfinished/unmixed/unmastered/instrumentals” bridges the gap between Nine Inch  Nails and Crystal Castles with their raw, lo-fi, maximalist glitch. Without the highly emotive and cathartic  vocals that have been part of Church Fire’s signature sound we are invited to visit the soundscapes that  give those vocals a powerful musical context. What is obvious here is the band’s playfulness and gift for  pairing dark tonal choices and buoyant rhythms anchored by spare textural elements. On “pixie death  tickle” there are wisps of voices but they serve as more a musical aside from the strong, bright, urgent  main passages. The “wip” in the title may refer to “works-in-progress” but these songs would work as  mood pieces in a soundtrack to the inevitable English language Inio Asano manga film in mirroring that  artist’s talent for simultaneously expressing melancholia and joy.  

cindygod | EP 2 | Fire Talk

Clipping. | Visions of Bodies Being Burned | Sub Pop
Brooding, seething, menacing industrial hip-hop horror stories from an all too near future.

Cyclo Sonic | Pile of Bones EP | self-released

Damn Selene | Nobody By That Name Lives Here Anymore | self-released

Dan Deacon | Mystic Familiar | Domino Records

Dead Voices On Air | Stone Cross Shuttle Worn | self-released

Deafbrick (Deafkids + Pet Brick) | s/t | Rocket Recordings

Death Bells | New Signs Of Life | Dais Records
Atmospheric post-punk brimming with an infectious sense of hope after a time of struggle.

Death Valley Girls | Under the Spell of Joy | Suicide Squeeze
Acid jazz flavored garage psych with an ear for emotionally rich infinite horizons.

Deerhoof | Teenage Cave Artists | Joyful Noise
Reliably Beefheartian, lo-fi No Wave-esque, boundary-breaking avant-pop.

Down Time | Hurts Being Alive | self-released

Drew Danburry | Icarus Phoenix A Sides and B Sides 2020 | Telos

Drew McDowell | Angalma | Dais Records

Dyad | Dormant | self-released
Charles Ballas and Jeremy Averitt are perhaps better known for their participation in acts like  Howling Hex and Esmé Patterson’s live band respectively as well as their production work for  Echo Beds. But DORMANT from their long-running collaborative project DYAD showcases  their mutual knack for genre-bending IDM-esque soundscapes. DYAD freely blends elements of  non-Western polyrhythms, intricate and textured instrumentation, luminous jazz keyboard  progressions and tasteful electronic arrangements that convey an eclectic and international flavor.  Imagine music equally influenced by Herbie Hancock, 80s Ethiopian synth pop, Daft Punk,  Warp Records artists and informed by a deep sense of play, and you will have some idea of the  soothing and imagination stirring quality of this music and its brilliantly new age downtempo  future jazz sounds. 

eHpH | Infrared | self-released
This Denver-based electro-industrial duo minces no words on the opening track “Idiot” in its  introductory sample “I’m gonna say one thing, fuck Trump.” And then on to choice  sampling of 45s words and those of journalists cataloging some of his offenses against humanity.  The menacing descending synth bass progression and minimalistic percussion puts the focus on  the words. The rest of the album is less explicitly and specifically topical but it is the band’s most  fully realized and focused effort yet. The pulsing pace and Fernando Altonaga’s distorted vocals  draw you into meditations on the perils of creeping authoritarianism on “Tarnished.” The  pastoral pace and deep melancholy of “Forever Haunted” resonates with the artfully despairing  tones of the Closer period of Joy Division the way its circular guitar line and synth melody rides  a wave of personal revelation and the contemplation of an unrelievedly bleak future. EhpH  has long been one of the more interesting modern EBM bands but Infrared demonstrates that the  group of Altonaga and Angelo Atencio have fully integrated those roots with a more  contemporary post-punk and darkwave sensibility, thus never sounding stuck in the  past. 

Emerald Siam | Inventions of Ascension | self-released

Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou | May Our Chambers Be Full | Sacred Bones Records

Emmy The Great | April / 月音 | Bella Union

Entrancer | Decline Vol. 4 | Multidim
In constructing this latest installment in Entrancer’s Decline series Ryan McRyhew utilized Rob  Hordijik’s DIY synth, the Benjolin, as well as the Make Noise Shared System. Though both are modular  synthesis devices and visually look complex, McRyhew, in naming the equipment on the Bandcamp  page, takes some of the technological mystery out of music making with synths  and puts the emphasis on the creativity end. For twenty-seven minutes forty-four seconds of the single  track of this album, “Decline XVI,” we travel with McRyhew through the sonic analog of the distorted  ebb and flow of civilizational decay that we seem to be experiencing right now. Yet at the  heart of the piece we hear a separation of more industrial sounds and those more organic like the  inevitability of nature reasserting its primacy in our own consciousnesses and in the entire world.

Equine | Light Wa/orship | Noise Pelican

Eve Maret | Stars Aligned | White Supulchre Records

Eyebeams | It Means Trouble | Hot Congress

Eyedress | Let’s Skip to the Wedding | Lex Records

Eye of Nix | Ligeia | Scry Recordings
Uplifting, psychedelic, blackened noise doom journey to a pagan underworld and back.

Facs | Void Moments | Trouble In Mind
The post-punk equivalent of crime jazz’s subterranean menace.

Faim | Hollow Hope | Deathwish

Fearing | Shadow | Funeral Party

Fire-Toolz | Rainbow Bridge | Hausu Mountain Records

Flaming Lips | American Head | Warner Records
Overflowing with compassion and musical salves for the pain and despair of the fractured American psyche.

French Kettle Station | Spirit Mode | Slagwerk

Future Islands | As Long As You Are | 4AD
A soulfully soothing and transporting examination of the roots of one’s melancholic impulses.

Galleries | Resolve | self-released

Ganser | Just Look at That Sky | Felte Records
Incandescent yet contemplative post-punk dense with conceptual content and poignant social commentary.

Gold Cage | Social Crutch | Felte Records

Hard to Be a Killer: A Tribute to Ralph Gean
In an alternate universe Ralph Gean is a beloved rock and roll hero widely known for his  brilliantly unique and off-beat songwriting. But the British Invasion derailed that trajectory and  Gean instead has since become a bit of a legendary figure with a cult following in Denver music  who has periodically played shows and championed by figures as politically disparate as Boyd  Rice (who compiled a collection of Gean’s work in 2007) and Jello Biafra. That fandom is  reflected on this sprawling tribute album assembled by Arlo White of Hypnotic Turtle Radio and  bands like Deadbubbles and The Buckingham Squares. Every interpretation of Gean’s songs is a  worthy listen and a fine showcase for his sheer breadth as an artist. Contributions from local,  experimental eccentrics like Little Fyodor & Babushka, Claudzilla and The Babysitters lovingly  capture Gean’s essential appeal as an artist with an unvarnished charm and humor. Eric Allen of  The Apples in Stereo fame highlights the science fiction cowboy persona that Gean could convey while White’s band Diablo Montalban with the late, great eccentric DJ and Denver cultural figure  Frank Bell give “Switzerland” a real dark exotica treatment reminiscent of weirder moments in  Tom Waits’ catalog. A fascinating portrait of an important yet often overlooked artist.

H Lite | Green Youth Heattech | self-released
Anton Kruger has been known for his inventive, hyperkinetic electronic and experimental music. But for  this new EP he took a deep dive into contemplative realms of sound. Elegant, heavenly strings, luminous  swells of tone and crystalline percussion embody the title of the song “Light Language.” The spacious  sound design aspect of all the song’s on the album are reminiscent of Plaid in the enigmatic playfulness  and the stretching consciousness to find inspiration through creative work. Every song brings forth a  singular and imaginative portrait of tone, texture and rhythm that takes you on a journey to alien spaces  that strike one as familiar and ultimately comforting like a dream. It is post-glitchcore IDM that dispenses  with the anxiety in favor of a soothing spirit.

Houses of Heaven | Silent Places | Felte Records
Gloomy street tribal dance anthems fortified with dark, minor chord melodies.

Human Impact | s/t | Ipecac Recordings

In The Company Of Serpents | Lux | self-released
In the Company of Serpents has long been a band that has aimed to infuse its music with its  interest in cinema, esoteric knowledge, literature, and with all of those come out of directi human experience, emotion and an attempt to make sense of life and imbue it with  meaning. Lux is the fullest manifestation of those aims written into its most sonically dynamic  set of songs to date. The crushing yet fluid heaviness of its sound is paired perfectly with  elements of song that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Spaghetti Western soundtrack. “The  Fool’s Journey” opens the record as a sort of map for the path set before us ending with the  enigmatic “Prima Materia.” It’s a musically diverse and rich album that places In the Company  of Serpents apart from a mere doom band and more in the realm of Swans’ and Neurosis’ own  heavy explorations of the human psyche. 

IDLES | Ultra Mono | Partisan
Pointed yet loving politi-punk built on a hip-hop framework.

Insect Ark | The Vanishing | Profound Lore Records
A seething and entrancing hybrid of a Junji Ito manga and industrial psychedelic doom.

Jarv Is | Beyond the Pale | Rough Trade Records

jOoHS UhP | Big Glasss | Records
This record is so irreverent and self-deprecating it uses the swagger language of much of hip-hop to make  statements that are the opposite of anything some other artists would brag about. The irony runs so deep  even the elements of the music sounds like swagger. There is a song called  
“NoWeDon’tWannaMakeGoodMusic.WeTriedAndIt’sBoring.” The glitchy, industrial beats are so  unconventional and eccentric you would never confuse this duo with anything resembling traditional hip-hop. It all has more in common with Renaldo & The Loaf and The Residents  than even a weirdo like Kanye. Though often confrontational and obnoxious there’s no denying the  relentless creativity of the production and glorious seeming lack of regard for how a song is supposed to  sound. 

Juliet Mission | Surren | self-released
Surren is the third EP from Denver-based post-punk band Juliet Mission. As with previous releases the  trio’s command of blending layers of atmosphere with strong rhythms and a contemplative melancholy is  impressive. The short title track actually has three movements that flow from existential introspection to  passages of dark realization to a mood of uneasy acceptance. All four songs in their brooding beauty  demonstrate, as have the most recent albums from The Church, that you can write vital and engrossing  rock songs from an adult point of view with elegance and grace, and without defaulting to an adolescent,  and thus thematically limited, perspective. 

Jupiter Sprites| Holographic | Jupiter Sprites Records

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith | The Mosaic of Transformation | Ghostly International

Killd By | Neotropical (tape reissue) | Noumenal Loom

King Krule | Man Alive! | Matador
Like The Fall gone hip-hop chillout lounge post-bad trip horror movie dreaming.

Klara Lewis | Ingrid | Editions Mego
Distorted melancholic cello drones like the glitched image memories of past life regression.

KoKo La | Curriculum Vitae | self-released
Koko La has long already established herself as an artist of note as one of the MCs and producers in the  hip-hop group R A R E B Y R D $. Her soulful voice and presence often draws out subconscious  emotions and gives them form in the music and performance. Curriculum Vitae finds Koko La exploring  the experiences that have shaped her. Aided by Machete Mouth and Kitty Opinion$ on a couple of tracks,  Koko La excels here with shining a light on those experiences that challenge you in various ways, while  at the same time, giving you a better sense of self and the boundaries you must draw the border for people who might seek to dismiss you as a human or otherwise put you in your place. The trap beats and  hushed atmospheres provide a fascinating listening experience, like you’re honoring the subconscious  thoughts and feelings that affect your waking life by giving them an identifiable form that also allows you  to comprehend, embrace and reconcile the wounded sides of yourself. 

Lazarus Horse | Oh the Guilt! | self-released

Lithics | Tower of Age | Trouble In Mind
Surreal, minimalist post-punk funk disintegrating into disorder like American democracy.

Lone Dancer | Temporal Smearing | Multidim

Mamaleek | Come and See | The Flenser

Many Blessings | Emanation Body | Translation Loss Records
Ethan McCarthy of Primitive Man renown returns to his ongoing noise soundscapes with the enigmatic  and forbidding Many Blessings. In typical fashion this set of five pieces stretches beyond what McCarthy  has done with the project in the past. Throughout this album there is not the harsh noise and deconstructed  drones of some earlier work. Rather, it is layered collages of sound that give voice to the raw angst and  anxieties that sit as a background hum of modern civilization eating away at our collective  unconsciousness. The concluding track “Harm Signal” is like a symbol for the whole effort — a flow of  sounds, a frequency, that we usually ignore but which causes untold destruction to our existence.  These songs identify and give expression to energies and forces we’ve bypassed our whole lives but which  are now impossible to ignore, like a sound art metaphor for the social and political forces that have come  home to roost of late. 

Marissa Nadler | Moons | self-released

Melkbelly | PITH | Carpark Records/Wax Nine

Memory Bell | Solace | self-released

Metz | Atlas Vending | Sub Pop

Midwife | Forever | The Flenser
Madeline Johnston wrote Forever during one of the darkest times of the Denver DIY music  and art community. Her community was scattered and challenged in the wake of the Ghost Ship fire with  so many lives seeming to be on hold with no hint about when thatdespairing period would end. And  the 2018 death of Colin Ward hit everyone whose lives he touched so deeply that it seems like the kind of  hurt that will never fully heal. Johnston’s almost ghostly, delicate and vulnerable vocals and distorted,  ethereal guitar seem to drift together in an effort to make some sense of those feelings with a nuance and  sensitivity that always comes across as emerging directly from those places of acute pain and ache  and loss, and honoring the need to just feel all of that whenever the need strikes and for however long into  your life it lasts even if that is, indeed, forever. An especially touching and evocative tribute to a uniquely  restless and creative yet sensitive and emotionally refined person in Colin Ward, Forever is a tender and  heartbreaking, healing catharsis in the listen. 

Mild Wild | Mild Wild, Vol. 1 | self-released
Intensely personal, imaginatively lo-fi aural snapshots of daydreams and poetic observations.

Mint Field | Sentimiento Mundial | Felte Records
Dream pop slow burner illuminating and warming the inner regions of the melancholic heart.

Moby | All Visible Objects | Mute Records
Retro rave and chillout lounge songs mourning our collective loss, yearning for a hopeful future.

Molchat Doma | Monument | Sacred Bones Records
Introspective, elegantly minimalistic, lo-fi, Belarusian gloom pop.

Mong Tong | Mystery | Guruguru Brain

Moodie Black | FUZZ | Fake Four

Moon Pussy | Hurt Wrist | The Ghost Is Clear Records
Guitar riffs like swarms of angry insects sweeping through. Syncopated percussion like start- and- stop  jackhammers. Bass lines like a half- ton coil being struck and emitting a menacing fluidity. Tortured  vocals erupt with Brutalist, post-hardcore poetry. All of this helps to make this latest Moon Pussy record  the perfect companion and reaction to a radically uncertain world seemingly in perpetual crisis mode and  on the verge of we know not what. Fans of bands on the Amphetamine Reptile imprint or Touch and Go  will be thrilled with the band’s seemingly endless supply of inspired, aggressive and savage noise rock  riffs and the ability to articulate directly from a place of desperation and outrage. “Fail Better” should be  the theme song of these United States.  

Mr. Bungle | The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo | Ipecac

Mr. Gnome | The Day You Flew Away | El Marko Records

Mrs. Piss | Self-Surgery | Sargent House

Napalm Death | Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism | Century Media

New Standards Men | I Was A Spaceship | self-released

Night of the Living Shred | Return of the Night of the Living Shred | self-released
The name of this album of course invokes the title of the 1985 horror comedy Return of the Living Dead.  And the Colorado Springs-based metal group has taken the opportunity to give us an unusual and eclectic  record that not only reflects its members’ broad taste in music but a deeply healthy sense of humor about  the world and themselves. “Shred Shoppe Quartert” is an a cappella song in the style of a barbershop  quartet. There are rap, punks, death metal, doom and grindcore songs. All of it performed with  a charming exuberance even though the entire track list reads like something out of a heavy metal version  of Mad Magazine. “We Get it, Mike Patton Is a Musical Genius” with screaming like a cover of  something by Naked City with lyrics mocking that? That’s genius. Even though the record is largely a put  on in one way or another, the fact that it has so much variety makes it eminently listenable.  

No Age | Goons Be Gone | Drag City

Of Feather And Bone | Sulfuric Disintegration | Profound Lore Records

Oneohtrix Point Never | Magic Oneohtrix Point Never | Warp Records

Otzi | Storm | Artoffact Records
Emotionally intense post-punk at the intersection of Sleater-Kinney and The Cure.

Perry Weissman 3 | Backlog | self-released

Plack Blague | Wear Your Body Out | self-released

Plague Garden | LEFT IN THE GRAVE | self-released

Pod Blotz | Transdimensional System | Dais Records

Pole | Fading | Mute Records

Primitive Man | Immersion | Relapse Records

Princess Dewclaw | Wild Sugar | Glasss Records
On the Wild Sugar EP Princess Dewclaw has reinvented itself as a gritty, industrial darkwave band. That  element was there on its 2017 album Walk of Shame (in fact the songs “Walk of Shame” and “Into the  Words” have carried over in a significantly different form), but there seems more of an edge here. The  vocals come more directly from channeling anxiety and pain into catharsis. Rather than acoustic  drums the electronic and programmed drums sync more closely with the cutting synth work. The effect is  like a caustic and politically charged take on a pop song with mainstream appeal. In that way it has an  appeal similar to that of Alice Glass’s emotionally raw solo offerings.

Protomartyr | Ultimate Success Today | Domino Records
Burning poems songs evoking a Jim Thompson-esque modern America in slashing/clashing post-punk.

Public Memory | Ripped Apparition | Felte Records
If Tarkovksy and Jarmusch could team up to make a cyberpunk movie this would be the soundtrack.

Rafael Anton Irisarri | Peripeteia | Dais Records

Raspberry Bulbs | Before the Age of Mirrors | Relapse Records

Reverb And The Verse | RESONATE | self-released
Since 1999 Reverb & The Verse has been developing and writing some of the most imaginative hip-hop  out of Denver. The groupput their songwriting on this ninth record through  a rigorous process of experimentation and weeding out the material deemed not quite  there. Though steeped in classic MC wordplay, the beats and expertly crafted synth work and rhythms  seem as informed by the likes of Minneapolis alternative hip-hop that came out of the 90s as it does 80s  and 90s synth pop. All of these elements make for a sonically rich and diverse listen a bit like a cross  between Clipse and Meat Beat Manifesto. 

Riki | s/t | Dais Records
Goth synth pop for skate rink parties in abandoned malls.

Run The Jewels | RTJ4 | Jewel Runners

Shabazz Palaces | The Don of Diamond Dreams | Sub Pop

Shitkid | 20/20 | PNKSLM
An unlikely and fascinating hybrid of garage rock and soulful synth pop.

Shocker Mom | The Mediocre Depression | self-released

Sightless Pit | Grave of a Dog | Thrill Jockey
Sublime and caustic, often claustrophobic, soundscapes of terrifying and transcendent beauty.

SNAD/Jackson Lee| Jargon/Syntax Error 12” EP | Deep Club Records

SPELLS | Stimulants & Sedatives | Snappy Little Numbers
This record is raw even by SPELLS standards. But it’s perfect for 11 songs about the messiness of  adulthood with lyrics that frankly go for the jugular. This isn’t new for this pop punk band and its  anthemic choruses, but it’s always interesting to hear the contrast between the primal pop of the  songwriting and incisive portraits of American life that dispense with the soul-destroying niceties. “We  Can’t Relate” is a pointed declaration of the disconnect between the culture of the wealthy and the  working class. “I’m Sorry I’m Not Sorry” is something of an apology song for being how you have to be  in a world that demands essentially unacceptable compromises. Imagine an amalgam of Blatz, Stiff Little  Fingers and The Replacements and you have an idea of the sound, the vibe and the sentiments expressed  throughout. 

Spice | s/t | Dais Records

Sprain | As Lost Through Collision | The Flenser
Colossal, sprawling, slowcore deep dives into the catharsis of anxiety and rootlessness.

Spunsugar | Drive-Through Chapel | Adrian Recordings

Squarepusher | Be Up a Hello | Warner Records

Stay Tuned | Remote Control | self-released
Brilliantly sampling from American media and entertainment culture, both musically and thematically,  Stay Tuned has produced not just a signature song with this arc of eleven tracks but a signature album.  Dense with content each song uses the format of autobiography to comment on aspects of society like the  shallowness of celebrity culture and the way we formulate our dreams and aspirations in terms and  frameworks taken from preexisting constructs like television shows, movies, video games and other  media — of course expressed through the corporate controlled channels we most often use to  communicate with one another. But in free associating musical and other media references in a collage of  sounds in the beat, Stay Tuned uses media tropes and collective myths and imagery to showcase how we  can subvert the prevailing power relationships and the monopolistic paradigms of our time.  

Stephen Malkmus | Traditional Techniques | Matador

Studded Left | Sidewalk Vitamins | Girlgang Music

Stūrī Zēvele | Labvakar | self-released
An endearing indie pop manifestation of the essence of close and warm friendships.

Sumac | May You Be Held | Thrill Jockey

Suo and Data Rainbow | s/t | Multidim

SUUNS | FICTION EP | Joyful Noise

Syko Friend | Fontanelle | Post Present Medium

The Drood | Totally Comfortable | self-released

The High Water Marks | Ecstasy Rhymes | Minty Fresh

The Microphones | The Microphones In 2020 | P.W. Elverum & Sun

The Paranoyds | Pet Cemetery EP | Suicide Squeeze

The White Swan | Nocturnal Transmission | CockThermos

Through Flames | Through Flames | self-released
Riveting, radical experiments in political poetry and sound design.

TI-83 | Demo | self-released

Time | These Songs Kill Fascists | Dirty Laboratory
Hip-hop artist Chris “Time” Steele displays a true gift for fusing autobiography and lived experience with  historical context and knowledge of political theory on this album. He’s always been a brilliant lyricist  whose expert wordplay has seemingly effortlessly combined his sharp sense of humor with a wide ranging curiosity about the world and a growing body of knowledge of history, culture and politics. On  These Songs Kill Fascists, Steele works with Daiba, Mick Jenkins, long time producer AwareNess,  Giuseppe, Ron Miles, JXSHYB, Cat Soup and Psalm One to create a jazz-inflected story cycle  commenting astutely on social issues now getting some focus. While a riveting listen purely as a well crafted album, These Songs Kill Fascists does not function as merely socially conscious entertainment, it  seems to have been crafted as a form of praxis that challenges artist and listener in a dialectic of critical  pedagogy that mutually encourages ongoing personal growth and social transformation.

Tobacco | Hot, Wet & Sassy | Ghostly International
Bright, bombastic, noisy synths paired with darkly humorous musings disrupt the album’s aesthetic of nostalgic comfort sounds.

Torres | Silver Tongue | Merge Records

Uniform | Shame | Sacred Bones Records
Scorching and thrillingly diverse industrial hardcore inspired by noir literature.

Usaisamonster | Amikwag | Yeggs Records

Vivian | The Warped Glimmer | self-released

Voight | s/t | self-released
Maybe it’s Chase Dobson’s treatments and mixing and mastering after Adam Rojo and Nick Salmon wrote  and recorded this album, but the self-titled Voight album is the closest the duo has come to sounding like  it’s blurring the line between its rock and electronic aesthetics. Guitar chords burn and shimmer out,  percussion flurries and traces out a minimalist beat and Salmon’s vocals float through the songs like a  person who was once lost but is now rediscovering his ability to feel and to express those emotions with a  coherent self-awareness. Every song has an expansive quality reminiscent of Clan of Xymox and The Twilight Sad. The tone of the album perfectly walks the line between urgency and introspection without  ever compromising an underlying delicacy of spirit and emotional refinement.

Wayfarer | A Romance With Violence | Profound Lore Records

Wetware | Flail | Dais Recordings

White Rose Motor Oil | You Can’t Kill Ghosts | self-released

Windy & Carl | Allegiance and Conviction | Kranky

WL | ADHD | Beacon Sound

Wolf Parade | Thin Mind | Sub Pop

Yves Tumor | Heaven To A Tortured Mind | Warp Records
Futuristic, effervescent, downtempo, synth pop-inflected, R&B informed non-binary funk.

Porlolo’s No Praise, No Blame is a Confessional and Compassionate EP About Growing Beyond Your Bad Habits

Porlolo’s new EP No Praise, No Blame borrowed its title from the William Stafford poem of the same name. It’s sentiments are a bit like having a non-detached Zen attitude toward life, accepting what is including the connections you have with others even through trying times. Maybe songwriter and singer Erin Roberts felt like she wanted to articulate a sense of how life had to be over the past year and often enough was in the past and will be in the future for reasons other than a global pandemic. But Robets goes beyond the all too commonly expressed feeling of being glad to be around people again regularly and all the privileges and imagined normalcy that goes along with it and delves into what you learn about yourself and your relationships with people when you can’t and thus don’t have to be around other people so much except as is necessary. In these songs you do hear an appreciation for the people you love and the subtle elements of your relationship with them that maybe you took for granted while also highlighting the tensions that came into focus when you were forced to take a step away from the situations that defined your life. In “Ain’t No Use” Roberts confesses to her own shortcomings including not being “good at saying goodbye” when that is necessary for the moment or from now on. She examines the basic human folly of hanging onto false hopes even when the shine on them is as obviously extinguished as a “old dead star.” Every song seems to be about taking stock of one’s place in life and shedding the desires, the aspirations and relationships that are dragging you down even when they have their hooks in your psyche and feel so much like a part of an identity that you’ve outgrown. And yet this forward momentum is not undertaken ruthlessly, but rather with compassion and a reticence born out of an awareness of one’s own faults and limitations of understanding. Every song is a well-crafted, expertly produced, indie folk pop song but Roberts has always brought a depth of thought and poetic expression to her lyrics since the early days of the project. Listen to the EP on Bandcamp and connect with Porlolo at the links below.

porlolo.com

facebook.com/porlolomusic

instagram.com/porlolo

Never Kenezzard’s Video for “GRAVITY” is a Mesmerizing Interpretation of Its Genre Bending, Psychedelic Doom

Still from the video for “GRAVITY” by Never Kenezzard

“GRAVITY” finds Denver’s Never Kenezzard pulling us through a winding road of heavy rock cast in warping, colorful tones. It’s a musical parallel to lyrics that conjure images of being an astronaut on a perilous trip to orbit and plummeting back to earth. It is a bit like a psychedelic doom analog to Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” The accompanying music video to the single draws upon guitarist/vocalist Ryan Peru’s knowledge of video production, cinema and music history. The hues are a shifting array of keyed colors to fill in areas of a negative image so that the band looks like it’s performing from another dimension in a 1970s Hammer film. It recalls the early music videos of Black Sabbath in which oil projections are overlaid on the band for a primitive visual effect but one that gives it a sense of mystery and otherworldly visual aesthetic. Peru is an expert of manipulating VHS video sources and processing them for projections in the live setting and that expertise in mixing mediums gives this offering a much better than intentionally amateurish feel.

Fans of Voivod’s late 80s music videos will also appreciate the cuts and experiments in style that run throughout not to mention how both the music and the visuals evoke a mood of experiencing something from a future where everything has fallen apart and put itself back together from the ruins of technology and culture. As is usual for the band, Never Kenezzard in this song doesn’t try to pummel you with heaviness, its shifts in pace and tone are creative and serve a sense of storytelling. Fans of the aforementioned as well as Unsane, Naked City, Queens of the Stone Age and Sleep will find something to appreciate about Never Kenezzard’s disregard for the conventions of noise rock, sludge metal and jazzy death metal. Watch the video below, connect with Never Kenezzard at the links provided and look for the band’s full length album The Long and Grinding Road due out in Fall 2021.

facebook.com/NeverKenezzard

Entropic Advance’s endless collapse is the Sound of Civilization’s Slow Decay Into a Mysterious Future

If ever there was a title to the current season of human civilization, endless collapse is it and this collaborative album between Denver-based experimental electronic/ambient artist bios+a+ic and Seattle-based avant-garde soundscaper noisepoetnobody (under the name Entropic Advance) is a musical analogue to what seems like a pervasive feeling that just when we think we’ve hit a new low as a species we keep showing ourselves that we haven’t seen anything yet. There are no grand political statements or observations on this album, just that mood of seeming to be caught up in the flow of society’s static as institutions, norms, formerly generally agreed to beliefs about what constitutes truth and a reliable path to knowledge and so much of what makes up the world as we know it erodes into insolidity and an ambient white noise of what can only be described as not just future urban decay but the kind of prolonged collapse Edward Gibbon described in his colossal 1976-1789 masterpiece The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire but this time a global, interconnected civilization, the collapse of which will spare no one in the end. Humanity will probably survive but the successors to the Roman Empire never had nuclear technology, advanced biological weapons and so many of the other fun stuff awaiting us if and when global hegemon’s fragment and pass into history with a massive power vacuum filled by groups and leaders we can’t yet imagine.

This album seems to have been based on contemplating the dark future that even the most cynical and dystopian cyberpunk never really considered and how realistic it is for a collapse to not feel like one until it’s well under way. The sheets of processed white noise, the organic yet fragmented rhythms and distorted drones of the title track and “behind the projected” is reminiscent of a dark negative image of Tangerine Dream’s “Thru Metamorphic Rocks” from Force Majeure Those familiar might even flash back to the stark, gray, deeply haunting imagery of Andrei Tarkovksy’s 1979 film Stalker and it’s air of mystery and yearning for dream fulfillment in the face of existential peril. The titles of the songs tell a tale of a similar voyage of waking up one day (“sunrise”) and becoming aware that you’re living in apocalyptic times except it’s not as dramatic or as sudden as science fiction and mythology has lead you to believe (‘endless collapse”) and you try to figure out a way to preserve your sanity while reconciling yourself with the tragic reality and envisioning what it might be like to exist on the other side of this time (“a bridge between worlds” and “from the ashes”) only to hit upon the oddly comforting idea that we all go through these shorter cycles in life as part of bigger trends and often only get a brief period of respite that we should treasure (“catch a breath”). Despite these heady themes it is a soothing listen and one that also perfectly embodies the melancholic yet faintly hopeful mood of the world today. Who knows where we’ll end up in the next year or ten but this album is also a reminder that being paralyzed by those concerns isn’t going to derail the worst possibilities and that creative work can be a cathartic way to break that psychological freeze.

Listen to endless collapse on Bandcamp and also, if you’re so inclined, give a listen to noisepoetnobody’s excellent 2021 album Insanity Mirror on Bandcamp as well. Connect with Entropic Advance at the links below for more information and to stay appraised of Wesley Davis’ various creatie endeavors.

facebook.com/entropicadvance

symbolicinsight.com/entropicadvance

Queen City Sounds and Art Best Albums of 2019

All Your Sisters | Trust Ruins

This best of list was intended for publication in 2020 and parts of the entries with comments were published in my year end best list for the print edition of Birdy magazine in Denver for the December 2019 issue. The full best of list is presented here with those short reviews included with the appropriate album and the rest included without comment and several album covers shared as well. The album of the year was All Your Sisters’ Trust Ruins (listed first) because it encapsulated the mood of the year and the band put on one of the best shows of 2019 and the record felt like a leap forward in style and execution for the band. Soon I’ll publish the full best of 2020 list too in a similar format with the commentary for those items that made it into the print edition of Birdy for December 2020.

All Your Sisters | Trust Ruins | The Flenser
A brutal, maximalist summation of the turmoil, conflict, sense of chaos and confusion, rage and frustration and overwhelming flood of negative input from world and societal events of the previous few years. In articulating those feelings and experiences and more alone as powerfully as it does, this album by All Your Sisters transcends genre by providing an example of how industrial and darkwave music can burst beyond established conventions with the sharp-edged and precise percussion framing and channeling the fiery energy at the core of the songwriting.

Adia Victoria | Silences | Atlantic

Adrianna Krikl | Celestial | Self-released

Aldous Harding | Designer | 4AD

Alex Cameron | Miami Memory | Secretly Canadian

Altas | All I Ever Wanted Was | Self-released
A lush deepening of the band’s sweeping, cinematic aesthetic.

Anamanaguchi | [USA] | Polyvinyl

Andre Cactus | Dune Juice | Multidim Records

Andy Stott | It Should Be Us | Modern Love

Angel Olsen | All Mirrors | Jagjaguwar
Poignantly dreamlike examination of identity in an age of universal scrutiny.

Bestial Mouths | INSHROUDSS | Rune & Ruin

Bellhoss | Geraniums | Self-released
Buoyant, lo-fi slowcore love songs for inner awkward nerd.

Bethlehem Steel | s/t | Exploding in Sound
The utter exorcism of oppression through bursts of melodic/atonal poetry.

Big Dopes | Crimes Against Gratitude | Self-released
Captivating indie pop earworm vingettes of American malaise and hope.

Big Thief | U.F.O.F. / Two Hands | 4AD

Bison Bone | Take Up the Trouble | Self-released

Black Belt Eagle Scout | At The Party With My Brown Friends | Saddle Creek

black midi | Schlagenheim | Rough Trade Records
A primer for the new avant-guitar rock revolution.

Black Mountain | Destroyer | Jagjaguwar

Blanck Mass | Animated Violence Mild | Sacred Bones

Blood Incantation | Hidden History of the Human Race | Dark Descent

Boy Scouts | Free Company | ANTI-

Briffaut | A Maritime Odyssey: Heaven is Only a Boat Race Away | GROUPHUG

Calexico and Iron and Wine | Years to Burn | Subpop

Cat Tyson Hughes | Gentle Encounters With Things | Self-released
Ambient, aural snapshots of memory fragments from the hypnogogic state.

Cau5er | The Tower | Self-released

Ceremony | In the Spirit World Now | Relapse Records

Chastity Belt | Chastity Belt | Hardly Art

Cheap Perfume | Burn It Down | Snappy Little Numbers

Chella and the Charm | Good Gal | Self-released

Chelsea Wolfe | Birth of Violence | Sargent House

Chimney Choir | (light shadow) | Self-released

Chromatics | Closer to Grey | Italians Do It Better

clipping. | There Existed an Addiction to Blood | Sub Pop

Consumer | In Computers | The Flenser

Control Top | Covert Contracts | Get Better Records

Cop Circles | Vacation for Hurt | Self-released
Subversive, Laurie Anderson-esque, New Age, No Wave send-up of corporate seminar jingles.

Cosey Fanni Tutti | Tutti | Conspiracy International
Heavy and hypnotic industrial rave autobiography through sound.

Curse | Metamorphism | Fake Crab Records
Eight, powerful, darkwave, prophetic warnings of our potential future.

Danny Brown | uknowhatimsayin¿ | Warp Records
Relentlessly inventive beats and tragicomedic, self-immolating swagger, sci-fi autobiography.

Davi Valois | Bátraquio | Space Cow Music

Deafkids | Metaprogramação | Neurot Recordings
Immersive, ambient-industrial death grind.

Doo Crowder | One For the Losers (& Other Pilgrims) | Self-released
The greatest art pop record since the death of Harry Nilsson.

Dog Basketball | s/t | Self-released

Drab Majesty | Modern Mirror | Dais Records
Moodily heartbreaking deep dive into the essence of love, memory and beauty.

Drowse | Light Mirror/Second Self | The Flenser

Dude York | Falling | Hardly Art

Earl Sweatshirt | FEET OF CLAY | Tan Cressida

Elizabeth Colour Wheel | Nocebo | The Flenser
Majestic, urban-tribal, noise-sludge dream psych.

Empath | Active Listening: Night On Earth | Get Better Records

Entrancer | Downgrade | Multidim Records

Ex Hex | It’s Real | Merge Records
Cosmic New Wave power pop gems beginning to end.

Facs | Lifelike | Trouble In Mind

FEELS / Shannon Lay | Post Earth / August | Wichita / Sub Pop

FM Cubgod | Handsome? | Self-released

Foxes in Fiction | Trillium Killer | Orchid Tapes

Frankie Cosmos | Close It Quietly | Sub Pop

French Kettle Station | Over X Millennia | Self-released
Retro-furturist, New Age pop shade jams on contemporary wack culture.

Future Sound of London | Yage | Fsol Digital

Gila Teen | Doesn’t | Self-released

Glissline | Digital Bipolarism | Multidim Records

Gold Trash | Quiet Violence | Glasss Records
Collage glitch industrial hip-hop daggers into misogynist culture.

Goon | Natural Evil | Convulse Records

Guerilla Toss | What Would The Odd Do? | DFA
Mind-altering, subtropical, disco punk dance pop.

Guidon Bear | Downwardly Mobile: Steel Accelerator | Antiquated Future Records

Gun Street Ghost | Battles | Self-released

Half Shadow | Dream Weather Its Electric Song | Illusion Florist

Haunted Horses | Dead Meat | SIXWIX

Have a Nice Life | Sea of Worry | The Flenser

HEALTH | Slaves of Fear Vol. 4 | Loma Vista Recordings

HIDE | Hell is Here | Dais Records

Holly Herndon | Proto | 4AD

HTRK | Venus In Leo | Ghostly International
Love songs from downtempo dance clubs in the future urban decay.

Jamila Woods | Legacy! Legacy! | Jagjaguwar

Jenny Hval | The Practice of Love | Sacred Bones

Kal Marks | Let the Shit House Burn Down | Exploding in Sound

Kid Mask | dead sore(s) | Self-released
Dispatches from the industrial glitch techno hard rave revolution.

Kim Gordon | No Home Record | Matador Records
Scathing jazz cool poetry set to hip-hop-inflected noise.

Kristin Hersh | Possible Dust Clouds | Fire Records

Kyle Emerson | Only Coming Down | Swoon City Music

Larians | Looming Boy EP | Self-released
Loneliness and isolation distilled as shimmering IDM nuggets.

Legendary Pink Dots | Angel in the Detail | Metropolis Records
A brilliant synthesis of classical sonic architecture, emotionally charged ambient and deep social critique.

Lightning Cult | EP 2: Ether Waves | Cloud Command Sound

Lingua Ignota | Caligula | Profound Lore
Caustic, industrial fusillade against patriarchal fragility.

Lisa Prank | Perfect Love Song | Father/Daughter Records

Little Fyodor | Pithy Romantic Ballads | Self-released
Arch punk cynic and curmudgeon begrudgingly admits affection and survives.

Lot Lizard | s/t | Different Folk Records

Lower Dens | The Competition | Ribbon Music

Malibu Ken | s/t | Rhymesayers

Mannequin Pussy | Patience | Epitaph

Mdou Moctar | Ilana: The Creator | Sahel Sounds
Intricate African prog suffused with the joy of the creative act.

Moon Pussy | Band Meating | Self-released
Eruptive, searing, angular, anti-pop exorcisms.

Muscle Beach | Charms | Sailor Records

Necropanther | The Doomed City | Self-released

New Standards Men | Field Recordings From Late Capitalism Vol. 10 | Self-released

No Gossip in Braille | Bend Toward Perfect Light | Cercle Social Records
The transmogrification of sorrow into transcendent melodies.

NoSwoon | s/t | Substitute Scene Records
Effervescent yet introspective dark wave synth pop.

Nots | 3 | Goner Records

Nuancer | I Hardly Know Her | Self-released

Obtuse | Who’s Askin’? | Self-released
Gloriously earnestly meaningful, off-the-cuff, utterly unpretentious pop punk.

Oh, Rose | While My Father Sleeps | Park The Van

Oko Tygra | Assistoma | Grey Market Records
Masterfully executed emotionally stirring downtempo dream pop.

Old Time Relijun | See Now And Know | K Records

Orbit Service | The Door to the Sky | Self-released

Pedestrian Deposit | Dyers’ Hands | Monorail Trespassing
The sonic analog of places we don’t want to visit but are drawn to anyway.

Pharmakon | Devour | Sacred Bones

Pinkish Black | Concept Unification | Relapse Records

Pile | Green and Gray | Exploding in Sound
Furiously poetic, orchestral and thoughtful blueprint for arty, noisy post-punk to come.

Plaid | Polymer | Warp Records

Pop. 1280 | Way Station | Weyrd Son Records

POW! | Shift | Castle Face Records

Priests | The Seduction of Kansas | Sister Polygon

Redwing Blackbird | Too Klaus For Comfort | Self-released

Rowboat | Birchwood Halls | Self-released

Secret Shame | Dark Synthetics | Portrayal of Guilt Records

Sheer Mag | A Distant Call | Wilsuns Recording Company
Modern blues punk’s equivalent of Judas Priest’s Stained Class.

She Past Away | Disko Anksiyete | Metropolis Records / Fabrika Records

ShitKid | DETENTION | PNKSLM Recordings

Silence in the Snow | Levitation Chamber | Prophecy Productions

Sleaford Mods | Eton Alive | Extreme Eating Records

Sleater-Kinney | The Center Won’t Hold | Mom + Pop

Slugger | Is Real | Self-released

Sole & DJ Pain 1 | No God Nor Country | Black Box Tapes

somesurprises | s/t | Drawing Room Records

Spirettes | Esoteria | Self-released
An ethereal distillation of deep yearning and determination.

SRSQ | Temporal Love/Unkept | Dais Records

Stonefield | Bent | Flightless

Strange Ranger | Remembering The Rockets | Tiny Engines

Studded Left | Popular Intuition | S/L INTNL.
Psychedelic post-punk portraits of life and love in our dystopic USA.

Summer Cannibals | Can’t Tell Me No | Tiny Engines

SunnO))) | Life Metal and Pyroclasts | Southern Lord

Swans | leaving meaning. | Young God

Tacocat | This Mess Is A Place | Sub Pop

Telefon Tel Aviv | Dreams Are Not Enough | Ghostly International

The Coathangers | The Devil You Know | Suicide Squeeze

The Hecks | My Star | Trouble In Mind Records

The Ocean Blue | Kings and Queens / Knaves and Thieves | Korda Records

The Paranoyds | Carnage Bargain | Suicide Squeeze

The Stargazer Lilies | Occabot | Rad Cult

The Twilight Sad | It Won/t Be Like This All the Time | Rock Action
The sound of a valiant struggle against existential failure.

The Vanilla Milkshakes | Punching Cows | Self-released
Humorous and heartfelt pop grunge odes to perpetual outsider status.

Total Trash | Field Guide | Self-released
Melancholic, post-psychedelic, slowcore, glitter jams.

Turvy Organ | The Ghost at the Feast | GROUPHUG

Tyler The Creator | Igor | Columbia
Dense, gritty, hazy beats and meta-exploration of identity as human and artist.

We Are Not a Glum Lot | The Price of Simply Existing | Self-released
Gripping, emo-inflected, math-y, post-punk bummercore.

Weeping Icon | s/t | Fire Talk
Cathartic, thorny, darkwave doom garage.

Whipporwill | The Nature of Storms | Self-released

Wreck and Reference | Absolute Still Life | The Flenser

Xeno & Oaklander | Hypnos | Dais Records
Heavy/heavenly techno for the dance club on Mount Olympus.

Xiu Xiu | Girl with Basket of Fruit | Polyvinyl

Zealot | The Book of Ramifications | Self-released

Memory Theater’s The Farthest Shore EP is a Darkwave Emotional Passage to a Post-Pandemic World

The title track of Memory Theater’s 2021 EP The Farthest Shore expresses the isolation and deep, emotional exhaustion and sense of resignation that many of us experienced throughout the 2020-2021 pandemic. The evolving, echoing layers of memory and melancholic vocals are a perfect analog to countless days of stasis and an almost ritualized existence. But in those repetitions and the minimalist synth lead we hear a resonant and familiar attempt to make sense of events beyond our control and moods in reaction to them that feel inescapable and permanent. “This Ending World” is a buoyant instrumental like a forgotten bit of incidental music from a 1980s coming of age comedy as if to express the perversity of a need to make the best of things in apocalyptic times while acknowledging the need to hold on to something that picks you up from a place of confusion, misery and hopelessness. “To Die in the Country” has an appropriate tone of menace with distorted and angular synth lines reminiscent of a musical descendant of D.A.F. and Chris Clark—darkly playful and urgent. The EP ends with “Lake of Flowers,” a song that sounds so uplifting but really expresses poignantly the feeling we all had that the pandemic wouldn’t and isn’t going to end because of the folly of human notions of their entitlement to narrow conceptions of liberty and that the best we can hope for is that nothing lasts forever including the pandemic and, if humanity can’t get its collective thing together, human civilization. This could all seem so bleak but these beautifully moody pop songs and their bright tonalities feel like a way to be honest about the feelings most people have had the past year and to not have to deny our humanity in the name of imposing a phony positivity that gets in the way of processing emotional trauma. You can listen to the EP and download, if you’re so inclined, on Bandcamp or listen to the title track and others on Spotify and connect with Memory Theater on Instagram linked below.

instagram.com/memorytheatres

Inner Oceans Bids Farewell For Now With The Poignantly Luminous “Islands 777”

Inner Oceans, photo by Luke Lovell

Griffith Snyder has been writing introspective, ethereal pop songs for years but the final one he writes for the duration might be “Islands 777.” In the wake of turmoil in his personal life, Snyder re-examined the nature of his relationship with other people, with himself, with his creative work and the purpose of that in his life given the demands and compromises and self-promotion required in order to break through to the kind of audience you would need for the art to sustain you. This song with its shuffling beat and hazy melodies feels like a resigned but mournful goodbye to the music world as it is as well as one’s past life up to this point. A necessary step and Snyder seems to have discovered the need for solitude to process these griefs and channel it into the kind of song that makes that break seem not just okay but inevitable. The line “Wanted to be heard” is perhaps most telling as a musician and as a human and it strikes the most poignant emotional chord of the song. Fans of Brothertiger and Washed Out will appreciate the resonances Snyder has crafted with this song. Watch the video for “Islands 777” on YouTube. It seems as though most of Inner Oceans’ social media accounts are gone except for Twitter where maybe Snyder will announce his return to music once his heart and spirit have healed.

twitter.com/InnerOceans

The Patient Zeros Evoke the Tension of Facing the Dark Side of Your Mind on “Ms January”

Denver’s The Patient Zeros has released its first tracks from a forthcoming 2021 album. The group has been developing and honing its songcraft the past several years and the single “Ms. January” is a fine showcase for the group’s knack for layered dynamics and illustrative turns of phrase. Rather than settling into a subgenre niche of some variety The Patient Zeros seem to have drawn inspiration from a wide spectrum of rock music and its spiritual and creative antecedent, blues. The song follows an drawn out melodic line up and down the scale like the slow moving roller coaster of mood that can be where winter can take you and leave you in spaces of contemplation inside your own mind. January is the dead of winter and metaphorically can seem to be a place of absolute stasis for the spirit but it as with nature it is a fallow time that forces you to face the aspects of your mind you maybe don’t want to face because there aren’t as many potential distractions. The song evokes that tension, resentment and acceptance of these challenges as necessary to personal growth. As the main line of the song progresses the call and answer and subtle details of counter melody give the song a sonic depth that simple rocking out could never provide. Listen to “Ms January” on Spotify and connect with The Patient Zeros on Facebook and Instagram linked below where the group will surely announce the release of the new record.

facebook.com/thepatientzeros

instagram.com/thepatientzeros

Club Soda’s Self-Titled Album is a Genre Hopping and Swapping, Lo-Fi Synth Pop Time Travel Adventure

Club Soda s/t cover

The self-titled Club Soda album gets going into some intense, hyper dance club version of a science fiction synthwave vibes right away with “Goblin Bitch.” Given the possibilities of modern production it’s difficult to say how much of this was produced with older technology but it has the tonal aesthetics of something that would have been made with cheap synths, drum machines and either Acid or some old sequencer and a CasioTone 101. Except that Elijah Jarocki brings a different set of aesthetics to the music than someone would have in the late 90s making use of childhood electronic instruments to create strange pop songs. “Heartbreak City” sounds like a trap song made by Captain Ahab. Ghosts of Herbie Hancock’s “Rock-It” haunt the edges of “Rice Forever” before it goes lo-fi Dirty South early EBM. “Goyle/Soda Alienation [178]” warps the flow of rhythm in a way that draws you in and provides sonic flashback of one of those beats Aphex Twin buried on the deep web for adventurous and resourceful fans to find. In the end, though, with “You Almost Took Me To The Edge,” Club Soda finishes the album with a triumphant, synthpop banger with vocoder to seal the impression of gloriously abused aesthetics and technology to engage in layered stylistic time traveling to make an album that could have been made 40 years ago or yesterday. Being able to exist in that zone of timelessness for the duration of the album is truly a gift. Listen to Club Soda on Bandcamp where you can also order a copy of the physical media.

Plague Garden Debuts the Video for “Dead on the Floor” From its Forthcoming Album Requiem of Souls

Plague Garden at Shag Lounge, December 26, 2019, photo by Tom Murphy

Denver-based deathrock inspired post-punk band Plague Garden is on the cusp of releasing its sophomore album Requiem of Souls on May 7, 2021. But for now you can get a taste of what you’re in for with the video for “Dead on the Floor” filmed entirely in Colorado and starring, in addition to the members of the band, Justine Ruppert. The video was edited by Angelo Atencio of Plague Garden and it has the hallmarks of long lost, indie horror movie from the 90s. Those knowledgeable in the haunting mortuaries of Colorado may recognize some of the striking scenery. The album is a step forward for the band and its blend of icy synths, soulful vocals and buzzy yet funeral guitar tone should appeal to fans of Catastrophe Ballet period Christian Death and early Death In June. Watch the video on YouTube and listen to tracks on the group’s Bandcamp site where you can order a CD copy of the album.