“Hide,” the lead track from Secret Shame’s forthcoming sophomore follow-up to its fantastic 2019 debut album Dark Synthetics is a statement on embracing one’s vulnerability and the dangers of always feeling like you need to hide part of yourself as an act of self-protection. In the choruses, guitar riffs hit in a measured yet expressive procession and then bloom forth in wide circles of melody as the rhythm section carries a lot of the weight of the track with an irresistible momentum and energy. In the verses the instrumentation gives the room that is so yearned for in the lyrics that Lena Machina delivers with a focused introspection. The song speaks to anyone that has had to turn a personal asset into a mark of shame because of the bad faith behavior of others and of a culture that consistently treats normal and not inherently destructive human behaviors as an aberration even if it’s something as simple as wanting to have your existence matter despite where the focus of society’s unspoken system of rewards is placed. Not to mention how one can internalize this mindset when it’s the bulk of what’s presented to you in life. It’s a song of no small amount of nuance in its sentiments and musically it’s a step further in the post-punk darkwave direction more than hinted at on the first record and its superb blend of punk and its darker cousin. Listen to “Hide” on YouTube, connect with Secret Shame at the links below and look out for the group’s new album likely announced later in 2022.
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
Secret Shame’s September 2019 release of Dark Synthetics introduced the world to a promising new post-punk band whose lushly moody tones, delicately evocative guitar work and duskily ethereal vocals was informed by a haunted grittiness. This remix by Skinquarter of “Haunter” emphasizes the way the band has crafted an emotional experience that can fit into a more electronic dance side of darkwave as much as it does the more rock aspect of its music. The synths are already part of the band’s music, Skinquarter (a side project of Ricky Olson with whom Secret Shame recorded Dark Synthetics) emphasized that and extrapolated that potential into different shapes so that the track’s dynamics bottom out and swell as if rippling through time in and out of phase. What was a beautifully introspective post-punk song thus had its potential tweaked for becoming a darkwave EBM and Goth club dance track. Listen to the Skinquarter remix of “Haunter” on Soundcloud and follow Secret Shame at the links below. Look for new music by Secret Shame in early 2020.
“Calm” by Secret Shame is probably the state of mind this song is a kind of an emotional exorcism to attain given its narrative of chaos and anxiety among a circle of friends and associates. Comparisons to Siouxsie & The Banshees is inevitable as Lena’s vocals have a similar power and versatility. The rhythms are steady and appropriately brooding and the guitar minimal yet melodic and spidery after the manner of early Sisters of Mercy. But when the guitars, bass and drums sync up with the vocals, including the backup vocals, for the choruses the band alchemically attains an electrifying frisson that pushes the sound beyond what one might expect with the intentionally lo-fi recording. The latter actually contributes to a sense that this song could have come out in 1983 or today except that, while also reminiscent at times of Denver’s Your Funeral or a death rock version of The Vanishing, there is nothing museum piece about what the band is doing. It’s moods are introspective and its words unsparing yet poetic and compassionate in their examination of self and socio-political issues—aspects of the music that often seem underappreciated in a lot of dark post-punk. And it is that side of the songwriting that gives the music its powerful emotional resonance. Look for the group’s debut full-length Dark Synthetics out on Portrayal of Guilt Records (yes, run by the great weirdo hardcore band) on September 6, 2019. Listen to “Calm” on Soundcloud and follow Asheville, North Carolina’s Secret Shame at the links below.