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

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

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.

Joseph Lamar’s Genre-Transcending SIN. [act I] is a Musical Journey to Radical Self-Acceptance

Joseph Lamar’s SIN. [act I] cover

Joseph Lamar has dispensed with genre limitations from early on his career and SIN. [act I], his 2020 album, is a panoramic display of his creative instincts. The album is a story arc and exploration of the nature of sin and how the concept and its place in the personal mythology of many people can exert both a deleterious influence on the psyche while also inducing a tension that produces unintended consequences as those forbidden things become points of obsession, secret and otherwise in the mind. Lamar’s casting these contemplations in the form of experimental R&B songs lends to his songwriting palette textures, tones and rhythms that bring great nuance of expression to every track. The electronic percussion deconstructs and uses trap beat making in a creative way that is in its own way psychedelic as Lamar brings you on the existential journey of the album with him for a trip through conflicting emotions and personal evolution along the way. The song “paradise 1” is a theme and part of a story within a story that questions in both music and lyrics what really is paradise and how much of it can you really take before you want to move on to other experiences and other types of paradise than those that initially occur to you in life. The following track, “x_tears_in_paradise,” has the line about “no tears in paradise” as though in a perfect world you are expected to adhere to the same artificial rules of emotional expression that you do in an everyday emotionally repressive culture.

Lamar really does push against psychic straight jackets across the album and figures out a way out of the internalized psychological and social pressures and works through rejecting them. In the end with the song “TEENAGE ANGST” Lamar rests in a realm of ethereal sounds and self-acceptance of the normal emotions we all have with an embrace of “imperfect” human existence as the only one we can ever really know. Fans of Kaytranada will appreciate the album’s genre bursting and inventive and eclectic production, at times it’s reminiscent of something Prince might have done had he come up in the 90s and 2000s making music and seeking to establish a unique musical identity and concept for his albums in the shadow of overexposure and overstimulation and transcending the limitations of thinking you need to adhere to someone else’s scene or style or the legacy of another artist. Lamar aims to reach such a creative state of grace with SIN. [act I] and seems to have succeeded. Listen to the album on Bandcamp and follow Joseph Lamar at his website and on YouTube.

https://www.josephlamar.com

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRKUDF5fphoVqJPoH-qY41g

Get Lost in Sal Dulu’s Entrancing Acid Jazz Ambient Pop Album Xompulse

Sal Dulu Xompulse cover

Sal Dulu has been producing tracks for sometime that seem informed by a combination of 20th century classical music, ambient and deep house but often organized around creating immersive and entrancing hip-hop beats. His debut album Xompulse puts all of these interests on display and it seem uneven if you’re listening for strict stylistic coherence. But the result is more like what you might get from a J Dilla record with the legendary producer’s own proclivity for putting his experimental impulses forward and forcing the listener to take on his imaginative sonic worlds on their own terms. So here Sal Dulu connects hip-hop tracks with connective, introspective pieces. The title track placed between “Zumo” and “Alien Boy 96” is an introspective piece comprised of impressionistic, lonely piano lines that serves as a complete sonic break near the middle of a set of chill but energetic beats much as later “Just Like Sonnenalle Blues” takes the listener on a detour through streaming guitar blues and processed gleaming sounds that shimmer out in sonic soft focus. The whole albums feels like Sal has absorbed a great slice of bedroom pop programming, chillwave, vaporwave and underground hip-hop and sound design composition to create an album that is a modern emotional equivalent of late night jazz lounge with all the elements vibing masterfully on final track “Buzzcut” which feels like collage pop as much as acid jazz but with the rhythmic breaks so smooth and entrancing that even the relatively abrupt ending isn’t jarring. Listen to Xompulse on Soundcloud.

Aura Gaze Gives Voice to the Subtle, Primal Energies of Consciousness on its Album Orb Temple

Orb Temple by Lubbock, Texas-based ambient project Aura Gaze is an album comprised of two extended tracks of equal length: “Orb Temple (for zither)” and “Orb Temple (for synth).” The first is comprised of layers of textural yet ethereal drones, flowing, resolving tones and and minimal, processed string sounds perhaps gentle strumming on the named instrument sounding utterly unlike any traditional use of zither. It makes one think about music one might make trying to imagine the background workings of dreams and the unconscious mind—the rhythms, the composition of immanent psychological energy before it manifests as thoughts we would recognize as such. The second track shares a similar resonance but with purely electronic sounds takes us on a journey from the sources and base energy components of the quanta of perceived existence, of cognition itself. Of course it is impossible for us to fully experience these sorts of things in real time because we require the cognitive framing to even conceptualize what that might be like but with music and and other forms of art we can use our imaginations to express an approximation of such primal concepts for us to experience without having to impose verbal or cultural constructs that impede our apprehension of ideas through our enforced frames of reference as born of a specific set of shared assumptions. Yes the filters of mother culture and the use of technology and how our imaginations are shaped by a collective creative and symbolic language exist in all art but music separate of conceits of adhering to a narrow sense of accessibility stands a chance of bypassing those filters. Orb Temple perhaps borrows the familiarity of rhythm and major scale tonality at points to draw us in to a deep sense of peace and a journey in brightening the dark corridors of our minds in trying times but in doing so it also reminds us that imagination and not having to couch all our thoughts and emotions in forms that have been imposed on us by a full bombardment of media, that, in fact we can cleanse our minds and move toward creating the kind of space in our heads that is open to creating expansive and fortifying experiences for ourselves and others. Listen to Orb Temple on Bandcamp (where you can also purchase a download or a limited edition compact disc through Somewherecold Records) and connect with Aura Gaze at the links below.

https://www.facebook.com/auragazemusic

Ghost Gnotes Self-Titled Debut Album is a Luminously Reflective and Deeply Evocative Journey to Inner Tranquility

Luke Mossman may be better known as a guitarist in Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, or if you were in Denver at the appropriate time, Achille Lauro, but in late spring he released his debut solo, self-titled album as Ghost Gnotes. The record, which is now available digitally and on vinyl at the Bandcamp site, showcases Mossman’s keen ear for sonic detail in crafting introspective, pastoral melodies. With hushed vocals and delicately luminous guitar accompaniment Mossman puts himself fully into that space of not being on the road with other musicians where even the long stretches of time between waking and soundcheck seems to be occupied by the emotional energy preparing for the next show. One gets the sense that Mossman set aside the intensity of touring to assess and reconnect with who he is separate from pre-established creative contexts. The unadorned simplicity of the songwriting allows for a sustained immediacy and vulnerability that runs throughout the record. Fans of Iron & Wine and Nick Drake will find some resonance here in Mossman’s arrangements and subtle dynamic flow.

To usher in the release of the record, Mossman released the single “Alone is an Earful” and an accompanying music video. The song features minimal percussion and expressively low key piano work that puts at center words that sketch in elegant detail an appreciation for the little things you notice when you allow yourself the space to not impose your ego on what you take into your mind. The video directed by fellow musician Rett Rogers is like a collage of memories and images of faintly remembered dreams immediately prior to waking up. The album, recorded in Eu Claire, Wisconsin with Mossman’s former bandmate in Achille Lauro, Brian Joseph (whose credits include work with Bon Iver, Sufjan Stevens and Local Natives) is a poetic exploration of the exercise of grace and gentleness with yourself and others in creating a tranquil headspace that fosters genuine connection. Watch the video for “Alone is an Earful” and follow Ghost Gnotes at the links below. To purchase the record, visit the Bandcamp page.

https://www.ghostgnotes.com
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2lKQb1EYSBthUuhIPMtUmg
https://www.facebook.com/ghostgnotes
https://www.instagram.com/ghost_gnotes
https://ghostgnotes.bandcamp.com/album/ghost-gnotes