Thursday, December 31, 2020

Heather Valley Covers Jason Molina

Jason Molina is Heather Valley's biggest musical influence, so if she's going to release a covers album, she is almost obligated to include a Jason Molina song. She's chosen "Whip Poor Will" from Songs: Ohia's 2003 album Magnolia Electric Co and Magnolia Electric Co.'s 2009 album Josephine. Valley does a wonderful job with her version of "Whip Poor Will." While hers may be a little more straightforward folk/country than the original, she perfectly melds the two versions into one that is all her own. It also brings a new quality to Valley's voice. While her singing has always been one of the main draws of her music, it's particularly captivating here.

Heather Valley says of the song: "Jason was an Ohio singer songwriter who performed as Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co during his prolific career. We lost him to depression in 2013, but his music remains as a beacon to help others get through the dark times. I love this song because I have checked in to the Southern Cross Hotel myself and know how it feels." 

You can listen to Heather Valley's version of "Whip Poor Will" below. Wildflower Radio, the upcoming album from Heather Valley, will be out in 2021. For more on Heather Valley, check out the artist's website.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Aaron Lee Tasjan - "Feminine Walk"

Photo via Facebook

Aaron Lee Tasjan is making some of the most interesting and unique country inflected music out there. Tasjan's latest single, "Feminine Walk," isn't going to be for country purists. That's mainly because it isn't straight up country. It's a really diverse blend of alt-country, 80's pop, and 70's classic rock. It sounds completely modern and current while still having some throwback vibes from decades ago. The closest comparison I can come to is if David Bowie followed up his weirdo 70's phase with an 80's country phase.

You can listen to "Feminine Walk" below. Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan!, the upcoming album from Aaron Lee Tasjan, will be out February 5 on New West Records. You can pre-order a copy here. For more on Aaron Lee Tasjan, check out the artist's website.

Leeann Skoda - "Still"

Photo via Facebook

I discovered Leeann Skoda when Jason Hawk Harris referred to her as his "sideman as of late," and mentioned her newly released single, "Still." I think we all owe Harris a thank you, because "Still" is absolutely lovely. Skoda has crafted a song that isn't quite country, isn't quite folk, and isn't quite pop. Instead it includes elements of all three, but too much of each to truly be called any of them. (Her Facebook page calls it "... dreamy music for strange times.") It's a simple song in its beauty. The majority of the song is just Skoda's voice and guitar, but it sounds completely lush and fleshed out. That's thanks to Skoda's voice, which is stunning.

You can listen to "Still" below. For more on Leeann Skoda, check out the artist's website.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Jessi Mac - "Bedroom Years"

When you first hear "Bedroom Years," the latest single from London's Jessi Mac, it sounds like dream pop, with the emphasis on pop. It's a quiet, lovely little song with gently strummed guitars and piano tinkles. And if it was that, it would still be a great song and immensely captivating. But during this time, the instruments hint at what is to come. After the first minute, the guitars start crashing in. "Bedroom Years" is still a lovely, emotive song propelled by singer Jessi McDonald's vocals, but the heavier guitars help propel the song into an edgier territory.

Jessi McDonald says of the song: “‘Bedroom Years’ is sodden with my existential feelings of insignificance. I think when you are in suspense of becoming an adult, the cold realities of the real world can be pretty overwhelming.”

You can listen to "Bedroom Years" below. Border Lines, the upcoming EP from Jessi Mac, will be out February 4. For more on Jessi Mac, check out the band's Instagram.

The Shang Hi Los - "Skipping Records"

Boston garage rock supergroup The Shang Hi Los boast members of Jenny Dee & The Deelinquents, The Downbeat 5, The Neighborhoods, and Eddie Japan. If you're a fan of any of those bands, you're going to love "Skipping Records." It's this impossibly catchy garage rock/pop song that is rarely made this side of the 1960's. This sounds like what could have been the hit song The Oneders would have made in That Thing You Do! 2 after they had gotten a little more edge in the 1970's. "Skipping Records" is the rare perfect song, and you owe it to yourself to check this out.

You can listen to "Skipping Records" below. Kick It Like a Wicked Bad Habit, the upcoming EP from The Shang Hi Los, will be out January 15 on Rum Bar Records. You can pre-order a copy here. For more on The Shang Hi Los, check out the band's Facebook.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Aaron Frazer - "If I Got It (Your Love Brought It)"

Photo by Alysse Gafkjen

We're playing a little bit of catch up here at the end of the year, but this one is worth the wait. Aaron Fraser is a member of Durand Jones & the Indications, but is striking out with a solo album next month. A new-ish single is "If I Got It (Your Love Brought It)." If you've been into Durand Jones & the Indications, or any of the modern neo-soul we've brought you, you're going to love this new song. It's the kind of soul song that could have been made in the 60's instead of 2020. It's an upbeat, horn heavy song focused on Frazer's impossible to hate vocals. Producer Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys) brought in some legendary session musicians such as members of The Memphis Boys, drummer Sam Bacco (who played on Aretha Franklin's "You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman"), and players from the Daptone-Big Crown Records bands. With that kind of pedigree, "If I Got It (Your Love Brought It)" is an instant hit.

Aaron Frazer explains the song: “I was at the DMV in Sacramento and above the commercial vehicles desk I noticed a wall full of toy trucks, and at the top a teamsters slogan from the 1950s: ‘IF YOU GOT IT, A TRUCK BROUGHT IT.’ I thought, damn that’s a hot line. Jotted it down, and when I brought it up with Dan, the song felt like it was writing itself. It’s a song of gratitude for who/whatever it is in your life that brings you happiness, grounding and self improvement.” 

You can listen to "If I Got It (Your Love Brought It)" below. Aaron Frazer's debut album, Introducing..., will be out January 8 on Dead Oceans/Easy Eye Sound. You can pre-order the album here. For more on Aaron Frazer, check out the artist's website.

Tacsidermi - "Gwir"

Photo via Facebook

Gwenllian Anthony from Adwaith has been writing music from Matthew Kilgariff (who is a touring member of Adwaith) for a few years. The new project from the two musicians from Wales is Tacsidermi. While their other band has an edgier alt-rock sound, Tacsidermi are more of a laid back, funky, psychedelic band. However, this is hardly a classic 60's psychedelic sound. Their new single, "Gwir," sounds like the early/90's Flaming Lips mixed with The Brian Jonestown Massacre. It starts off incredibly quiet, almost like some sparse quirky folk. And then the groove kicks in, and will make you an instant fan.

You can listen to "Gwir" below. The song is available as a single via Libertino Records. For more on Tacsidermi, check out the band on Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Fantasy Non Fiction - "Over It (and it's Christmas Eve)"

For their Christmas song, New Orleans's Fantasy Non Fiction have traded in their alt-rock/pop sound for a much more contemplative, quiet one. "Over It (and it's Christmas Eve)" sees bandleader Rose Cangelosi stepping out from behind the drum kit and over to the piano. This is a bummer of a Christmas song, with Cangelosi reflecting on a troubled relationship on Christmas Eve. The song is solely Cangelosi and the piano, and sounds much more like a cabaret standard than Fantasy Non Fiction's normal sound.

Rose Cangelosi says of the new song: “This song is my ‘River.’ I wrote it last year around the time I was having some issues with my partner and the holiday spirit was haunting me. I haven’t been super into Christmas for a while, I’m in a place where I really appreciate chosen family potlucks more than sudo-religious capitalistic traditions. My favorite verse is the one about inviting your demons to tea. Its based off of a story my favorite spiritual teacher, Tara Brach, shared. When the meddling demon god Mara shows his face, Buddha invites him for tea instead of being afraid. In my reflection, my demons accept the invitation and then taunt me for not feeding them- sounds about right!” 

You can watch the video for "Over It (and it's Christmas Eve)" below. For more on Fantasy Non Fiction, check out the band's website.

David Wax Museum - "Every Bit of Love"

Photo by Anthony Mulcahy

David Wax Museum have long been a favorite around here. The band have recorded a new album, and they're slowly debuting new songs from it on their Patreon. The first song is being made available to everyone, and it's one you need to check out! "Every Bit of Love" is part of the evolution of their sound, from the Mexican infused folk music to their newer, more modern sound. "Every Bit of Love" sounds like a more organic, folk version of the chill out room at a rave. There are some programmed drums, but since the instruments listed in the credits include cello, accordion, clarinet, harp, violin, acoustic guitar, and piano, I have no idea how they have this nearly electronic sound. David Wax Museum have crafted an incredibly lush soundscape on this song. It's folk music that doesn't sound or feel like folk music.

To listen to "Every Bit of Love," check out David Wax Museum's Patreon. Euphoric Ouroboric, the upcoming album from David Wax Museum, will be out in 2021. For more on the band, head on over to their website.

Charles Ellsworth - "Max & Geraldine"

Photo via Facebook

I gushed about Charles Ellsworth's single "Blessed" when that one came out. It had a great unique sound that put the alt back in alt-country. His newest single, "Max & Geraldine," has a much more traditional country feel to it. While it's not quite as alt, you're still going to love "Max & Geraldine." It sounds like if Bob Dylan was in his 20's now and was heavily influenced by 90's Wilco and Tom Petty, and decided to write a hit song. It's slightly rambling, and is a solid country rocker.

You can listen to "Max & Geraldine" below. Honeysuckle Summer, the upcoming album from Charles Ellsworth, will be out March 5 on Burro Borracho Records. For more on Charles Ellsworth, check out the artist's website.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

NO YEAR - "Sundown"

Based out of Portland, OR, NO YEAR are going to remind you a lot of the Pacific Northwest music scene from thirty years ago. Their latest single, "Sundown," is a heavy, sludgy mess (in the best possible way) of a song. It's not exactly grunge, but it's not not grunge? It sounds like if Dinosaur Jr had uprooted in the late 80's and moved to Seattle to jam with Tad and Mother Love Bone. It's a monster of a song, with occasional breaks in the heavy with some more quiet moments that are almost even pretty. The song clocks in at just under seven minutes, but it's such an epic it almost seems to go on forever.

You can listen to "Sundown" below. SO LONG, the debut album from NO YEAR will be out January 29 on Inferior Planet. You can pre-order a copy via Bandcamp. 

Lydia Loveless - "Merry Christmas"

Earlier this month, Lydia Loveless wrote what appeared to be a joke about writing a Christmas song on Twitter. Based on fans' reactions, she said that she'd actually have to do it. Well, she did! "Merry Christmas" sounds like an outtake from her recent (and my #10 album of 2020) album Daughter. It's a quiet, contemplative, and unbearably sad song that exemplifies her current sound of alt-country meets pure pop. This is definitely not the bubbly, cheery Christmas song for parties (which we shouldn't be doing this year, anyway), but the perfect kind of song for the Christmases we're all preparing for this year.

Lydia Loveless says of the new song: “I wanted to try my hand at a holiday song. Every year I intend to write one and give up. This year, the only thing I feel like I have any control over is my creativity—so it seemed like now or never. One of the things I have missed most is making music with others, so I asked my bandmates George (Hondroulis) and Todd (May) to add to it. It was a little spark of joy in a super bummer season.” 

You can watch the video for "Merry Christmas" below. The song is available now via Bandcamp with all profits benefitting the Mid-Ohio Food Bank. For more on Lydia Loveless, check out her website.

Jeff's Best of the Rest, 2020 Edition

As much as we hated this year, the music was solid. Here are the rest of my favorites that didn't quite make the 2020 cut:

* Foxanne - It's real (I knew it) (My #11, and if I had more time to spend with it I might have ranked it higher)
* Ben Eisenberger - Soloists (Might be higher with an earlier release date as well)
* Beadadoobee - Fake It Flowers
* Hazel English - Wake UP!
* Dua Lipa - Future Nostalgia
* William Basinski - Lamentations
* Vanessa Peters - Mixtape
* Taylor Swift - evermore
* Sorry - 925
* Sylvan Esso - Free Love
* Ailhbe Reddy - Personal History
* Annie Taylor = Sweet Mortality
* Sa-Roc - The Sharecropper's Daughter
* Fiona Apple - Fetch the Bolt Cutters
* Purity Ring - WOMB
* Carla J Easton - WEIRDO
* Taylor Swift - folklore
* Alex the Astronaut - The Theory of Absolutely Nothing
* Zilched - DOOMPOP
* Skylar Gudasz - Cinema
* Mipso - Mipso
* The Beths - Jump Rope Gazers
* Bonny Light Horseman - Bonny Light Horseman
* Sierra Hull - 25 Trips
* Koven - Butterfly Effect
* Black Dresses - Peaceful as Hell
* Damn the Witch Siren - White Magic
* Rina Sawayama - SAWAYAMA
* Soccer Mommy - Color Theory
* Squirrel Flower - I Was Born Swimming
* Orion Sun - Hold Space for Me
* Ringo Deathstarr - Ringo Deathstarr
* Billy Nomates - Billy Nomates
* The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick - Ways of Hearing

In addition, I liked a lot of songs this year, so instead of trying to keep this a 30 song playlist, I'm doubling it up. A little bit of everything in here; best consumed on shuffle.

What will next year bring? Who knows. Hopefully some live music and less pandemic content. But, most importantly? Good health. See you never, 2020.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

First Listen: New Releases for 18 December

A scheduling note: barring any major changes, this will be the final First Listen of 2020, with the first big release day of 2021 as its return. Enjoy the holidays, everyone.

Artist: Joel Paterson
Album: Let It Be Acoustic Guitar!
Quick Description: Solo acoustic guitar version of the Beatles classic album.
Why You Should Listen: This is great for anyone, not just fans of The Beatles.
Overall Thoughts: I've liked basically everything Paterson's done so far. His guitar work is unmatched in his space, and he has just as much love for the classics as he does more modern fare. I'm not the biggest fan of The Beatles by a longshot, but this is a really great interpretation of an album with more of its share of popular Beatles tunes. It'd be worth it in a busy week, but definitely worth it in this light release period.
Recommendation: Make the time.

Artist: Becca Stevens and Elan Mehler

Album: Pallet on Your Floor
Quick Description: A quiet, restrained collaboration.
Why You Should Listen: Becca Stevens is excellent at this sort of deliberative effort, and this is a great look at some slow jazz interpretations.
Overall Thoughts: Elan Mehler has some Massachusetts roots, but this collaboration goes back a while, and the result has always been solid. This is the type of lockdown album we expect: it provides the feel of being stuck in a room with nothing more than a few scattered instruments and your voice, and it's a really gorgeous listen on a whole. It might not work for everyone, but I'm glad I heard it.
Recommendation: Give it a shot.

Of note:

* KRS-One - Between Da Protests (If you're looking for some angry protest music (or book recommendations), this is your album.)
* Paul McCartney - McCartney III (This is more than fine, but it's not what you want it to be.)
* Pure Bathing Culture - Hats
* Wax On - Sprezzatura
* Baauer - Planet's Mad (Globe's Crazy)
* The Lemon Drop Gang - I'm Not the One
* Michael Christmas - Hiding
* Muck and the Mires - Greetings from Muckingham Palace

Christmas music:

* Lizzie No - Holidays
* Lost Christmas: A Festive Memphis Industries Selection Box


* Layzi - Layzi (This is worth keeping an eye on.)
* Hayley Williams - Petals for Armor: Self-Serenades
* Hologram Teen - Pizza Conspiracy (Reheated)
* Kiesza - Dark Tales EP
* Armin van Buuren - Euthymia
* Tycho - Weather Remixes
* Pye Corner Audio - Black Mill Tapes Vol. 5: The Lost Tapes
* Destiny Claymore - Pretty
* Karen Elson - Radio Redhead, Vol. 1
* The Cavemen. - Euthanise Me

Also out:

* Maggie Rogers - Notes from the Archive: Recordings 2011 - 2016
* DJ Douggpound and Vic Berger IV - Drop Concert
* Eminem - Music To Be Murdered By

Dressy Bessy - "Biggest Bells"

Dressy Bessy have been bringing us their indie rock power pop since 1996, so getting any new music from them is always a joy. This year brings us a new Christmas song, "Biggest Bells." Based on the title alone, this is a fun one. It doesn't sound very Christmasy, except for the occasional jingle bell. But this is definitely a Christmas song, with plenty of references to the biggest bells, Christmas trees, Santa, etc. This is pure power pop joy, with more harmonizing than you could ever wish for and the jangliest guitars you've heard this century. It's the perfect Christmas song when you want to be festive but still listen to a killer tune.

You can listen to "Biggest Bells" below. The song is available on Dressy Bessy's Bandcamp as a free download. For more on Dressy Bessy, check out the band's website.

Wyn Doran & Liz Bills - "Can't Go Home for Christmas"

Wyn Doran writing heartbreakingly sad songs is kind of a joke among her fans, to the point that she jokes about it. (Despite this, she's actually a delight to see in person.) Because of that, a Christmas song from Doran in 2020 perfectly captures how many of us feel about the season this year. "Can't Go Home for Christmas" is a painful song that reminisces for holidays of the past, when things were "all fun and games," and how we can't even go home for Christmas this year. Doran brings in friend and fellow musician Liz Bills in for this one, creating an alt-pop/singer-songwriter track that is as beautiful as it is sad, although Doran injects enough of her charm into the song to make it a great listen.

You can watch the video for "Can't Go Home for Christmas" (which features cameos of both musicians' cats!) below. For more on Wyn Doran, check out her website. For Liz Bills, check out hers.

Ken's Best of 2020 - #1: Run the Jewels - RTJ4

I don't think any album captures 2020 the way that RTJ4 did. If you were looking for escapism from your music this year, Run the Jewels were not the band to look to. The album came out right in the middle of protests denouncing the death of George Floyd and ongoing police brutality in America. Buildings were on fire, racist statues were being toppled worldwide... and RTJ4 came out. Even though it obviously was recorded long before the explosion happened, it felt like it was recorded smack in the midst of it. Run the Jewels are a political hip hop group, and this album perfectly captures the anger and rage rushing through the veins of many Americans. But, as serious as it is, it's a banger of an album. Somehow it's the perfect soundtrack to channel your rage through protests and have a party celebrating any victories you achieved. Plus, any album that puts Pharrell Williams and Zach de la Rocha on the same song, and it's an instant classic banger about how many founding fathers were slave owners? Sign us up.

Songs of note: "yankee and the brave," ooh la la," "walking in the snow," "JU$T," "pulling the pin," and "goonies vs. E.T."

Jeff's Best of 2020 - #1: Cartalk - Pass Like Pollen

It figures that my favorite album this year is one I almost missed entirely.

Cartalk, on the surface, isn't putting forward anything we haven't seen before. They're a singer-songwriter effort, but with plenty of buzz. Finally, I believe it was Jess Abbott of Tancred who raved about it on Twitter and I sought it out, and holy crap.

What's special about this is that the songs are so well-crafted, with some solid alt-rock sheen draped over the singer-songwriter confessionals. Songs like "Wrestling" feel ridiculously relatable, other songs like "Noonday Devil" present such an interesting mood with the lyrics interspersed with random elements (like a banjo!) that fit together perfectly.

Sometimes an album just speaks to me, and this one came in really loud. A near perfect album, especially in times that feel so uncertain.

Songs of note: "Noonday Devil," "Wrestling," "Arroyo Tunnels," "Car Window"

Monday, December 21, 2020

Atari Teenage Riot - "Adrenaline"

Photo via Facebook

At this point in time, the vast majority of our 90's heroes have mellowed out in terms of music and politics. (Mellowed out is usually the best case scenario, as many have made a full 180 in politics and keep on disappointing us...) Atari Teenage Riot, though? Not so much. Their latest single, "Adrenaline," sounds like it could have been released in 1997. It's the driving, pounding digital hardcore bursts of noise and aggression we loved from them two decades ago. Politically, it's more of the same from ATR. According to a description on Bandcamp, "Adrenaline" is about "anti-fascist street fights" and "using crypto currencies to smash the central banking system." The techniques may be updated, but the message is certainly the same.

You can listen to "Adrenaline" below. The song is available now via Bandcamp. For more on Atari Teenage Riot, check out their website.

Dean & Britta Cover John Lennon

"Happy Xmas (War is Over)" is a very divisive Christmas song. I'm personally on #TeamHappyXmas, so I was thrilled to see that indie rock vets Dean & Britta had released a cover of the classic holiday song. We all know the original, and if you're familiar with Dean & Britta (or their work in Luna and Galaxie 500) you're going to be able to figure out what their cover of the song is going to sound like. It's a dreamy, swirly indie rock song slowed down just slightly from the original. Both Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips' vocals perfectly capture the hopeful feeling of the original but let some melancholy in, too. This is the kind of song that you already know if you're going to love or not. For one, I'm fully in.

You can listen to Dean & Britta's version of "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" below. The song is available as a single with an original song ("Little Altar Boy") via Bandcamp. All proceeds will go to The Sled, which provides assistance to underprivileged NYC school children and their families. For more on Dean & Britta, check them out on Facebook and Twitter.

Ken's Best of 2020 - #2: Fiona Apple - Fetch the Bolt Cutters

I never thought of myself as a huge Fiona Apple fan. When she released Tidal way back in 1996, I liked it, but I was never obsessed with it. It was good, but nothing that floored me the way it floored everyone else. Since then, Apple has drifted in and out of my consciousness with different releases. Earlier this year when she was set to release Fetch the Bolt Cutters, which was somehow only her fifth album, there was an incredibly strong buzz behind it, but I didn't expect a whole lot. Fetch the Bolt Cutters has blown me away every time I've listened to it over the last eight months. It showcases an artist doing exactly what she wants to do. It's creative and unique. It's beautiful and angry. There's been a lot written about how Fetch the Bolt Cutters is the perfect album for 2020, and I certainly can't imagine this album coming out any other year. You can listen to it perfectly on the surface level on just the creativity and vibe of the music, but the more time you spend with it the more you're going to dig in and get more out of it.

Songs of note: "Shameika," "Relay," "Ladies," "Rack of His," and "Newspaper"

Jeff's Best of 2020 - #2: Little Hag - Whatever Happened to Avery Jane?

Usually Ken and I have more overlap than we do this year, but one thing we agree on is Little Hag. Ken found her first, and when he sent it over to me, it was relevatory. Very fun, very fresh, and very unique.

Her first album (and I know we're cheating a bit, since this is more of a compilation of tracks rather than a cohesive unit) under this name, Little Hag is like a diary with all the awkward parts included. It's referential (and self-referential) in ways that would be too cute by half if others tried to do it, and the self-deprication comes across less of a "woe is me" and more of an empowered young millennial who knows what she wants. It's great. More music should be like this.

Outside of Poppy, this was probably the album in heaviest rotation for me this year. Some of these songs will stay with me for years to come. If you missed out on this earlier in the fall, you owe it to yourself to listen to it now.

Songs of note: "Tetris," "Facebook," "Walk of Shame," "Predator"

Friday, December 18, 2020

The Mardi Kings Cover Bo Diddley

Photo via Facebook

The Mardi Kings are a Boston supergroup of sorts. The band features members of some of the city's finest underground bands, such as Tunnel of Love, The Monsieurs, Shepherdess, Nice Guys, The Barbazons, Earthquake Party, and Miami Doritos. They've contributed to an upcoming Bo Diddley tribute album put out by Slovenly Recordings, and if this song is any indication, it's gonna be a weird tribute. "Pretty Thing" isn't going to sound like an obvious Bo Diddley song. All the typical structure of a blues song has been drained out, and instead it's an electronic noise garage rock song. It's an impossibly bizarre version of a blues classic, but that's sometimes the kind of thing we're all in for. The standard chugging blues riff is still there, it's just an electronic squall now. 

You can watch the video for The Mardi Kings' version of "Pretty Thing" below. HE'S BAD! 11 BANDS DECIMATE THE BEATS OF BO DIDDLEY will be out February 19 on Black Gladiator / Slovenly Recordings. It will also feature the likes of Andy California, Gino and the Goons, and Quintron and Miss Pussycat. You can pre-order a copy via Bandcamp. For more on The Mardi Kings, check them out on Facebook.

Ken's Best of 2020 - #3: Sapling - No Sequoia

Sapling may be a hyper local to us Massachusetts punk band, but their release No Sequoia has been out all but three other releases on my top albums of the year list. How, you may ask? Obviously, it's a great album. But Sapling tap into my absolute favorite type of punk. It's not badass hardcore that will scare you with a threat of violence. Instead, Sapling will relentlessly mock you into nonexistence. The songs on No Sequoia are noisy, loud, obnoxious, and in your face. But they also have a killer groove and are some of the catchiest you will hear all year. They capture this amazing middle ground between noise punk that's purely noise and noise punk that's electronic noise. The songs bounce wildly from silly and fun to deadly serious and political, usually in the same song. Plus, you can dance to it, as long as you agree to mock the same people they do.

Songs of note: "Bikini BDRK," "Maria vs. Machine Maria," "Bitchshifter," "Everything Was Better," "Nice Guy," and "Fuck this Yuppie Barbeque"

Jeff's Best of 2020 - #3: Poppy - I Disagree

Poppy tries hard to be an enigma wrapped in a riddle with an influencer sheen and an appreciation of pop music to successfully lampoon it ironically.

Then she found metal music.

What we saw glimpses of with "X" and "Scary Mask" got a full album treatment with I Disagree, and the result nearly defies description. It's sort of an American Babymetal - all the pop trappings and all the metal instrumentation. It's melodic and harsh, it's brooding with a bop - there's a lyric, "bury me six feet deep/cover me in concrete/turn me into a street" that is so vivid and dark and hilarious, it's almost unreal. And I love it. I love it so much.

Few albums this year made me stop and say "hey, you gotta hear this," but Poppy pulled that off. An early release this year, it's stayed in semi-regular rotation and got a lot of people to notice what she's been up to. Quite the feat.

Songs of note: "BLOODMONEY," "I Disagree," "Concrete," "Fill the Crown."

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Sara Noelle Covers Vince Guaraldi

There was quite a hub bub when it was announced that the much beloved holiday classic A Charlie Brown Christmas would only be available on Apple TV+ this year. (Still wondering how many people upset about that news actually watched it on PBS recently...) In better Charlie Brown Christmas related information, Los Angeles's Sara Noelle recently released a cover of Vince Guaraldi's classic song "Christmas Time is Here." Despite not being a jazz version of the song, Noelle keeps the sound and spirit of Guaraldi alive with hers. It's an alternative pop version, a little more upbeat and whimsical than the original. While the original captures the cartoon and the scene better, Noelle's cover seems to fit the joy of the holiday and the season more.

You can listen to Sara Noelle's version of "Christmas Time is Here" below. The song is available on Noelle's Bandcamp along with an original holiday song, "Christmas at Sea." For more on Sara Noelle, check out the artist's website.

The Prefab Messiahs - "When Things Fall Apart"

Worcester's finest psychedelic garage rockers The Prefab Messiahs are poised to celebrate their fortieth anniversary, and have new music to celebrate! "When Things Fall Apart" is exactly what we've come to expect from The Prefab Messiahs. It's insanely groovy, reveling in classic psychedelia without dipping into hippie territory. This is definitely psychedelic garage rock for weirdos. It's much more Frank Zappa than The Grateful Dead. What's truly great about "When Things Fall Apart" is that it's also covered in sugary pop, so imagine if The Archies partied with Zappa and then went on tour with ? and The Mysterians. 

You can listen to "When Things Fall Apart" below. Music for Concerned Citizens will be out March 26. You can pre-order a copy via Bandcamp. For more on The Prefab Messiahs, check them out on Facebook.

Ken's Best of 2020 - #4: Little Hag - Whatever Happened to Avery Jane?

One day late in the summer I started seeing posts from a musical artist named Little Hag on Facebook. I figured I would remember following someone with that name, so I did a little digging. Turns out Little Hag used to be Avery Mandeville of Avery Jane and the Mandevilles, who I discovered while making a Artists of New Jersey playlist for a family vacation. Discovering Little Hag was one of the true joys of 2020. I listened to Whatever Happened to Avery Jane? almost daily for the first few weeks after it was released. 

Whatever Happened to Avery Jane? is this perfect blend of pop and indie rock. It has this wonderful sense of humor that I simply can't resist, even though I'm probably (definitely) too old to love this album as much as I do. "Tetris" helps solidify that feeling with lyrics like "Everyone wants to fuck me / No one wants to see me cry" and "Text bitches 'til your eyes fall out." This is the kind of album that has me checking concert dates in Asbury Park to turn another family trip for donuts and tacos into a pilgrimage to see Little Hag... someday.

Songs of note: "Tetris," "Facebook," "No More Dick Pix," "Alexander," and "Encore - Live in Asbury Park"

Jeff's Best of 2020 - #4: The Mastersons - No Time for Love Songs

I'm a sucker for a good family band.

I hadn't heard of The Mastersons prior to this year. A married duo who are part of Steve Earle's backing band, The Dukes, they put together absolutely beautiful folk/country music with some serious heart. The two know each other so well on this latest effort that the melodies, the harmonies, the songwriting - everything is in perfect sync. The album feels cohesive and whole in a way few albums do, and whether it's a song like the title track opener or "King of the Castle" (one of my favorite songs of the year), there's so much to love here in this total package.

Songs of note: "No Time for Love Songs," "There is a Song to Sing," "King of the Castle"

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Vivian Leva & Riley Calcagno - "Will You"

Photo by Brendon Burton

The new song from Vivian Leva & Riley Calcagno isn't reinventing the folk genre. "Will You" is a straightforward, modern folk song that keeps one foot in traditional folk. You've heard songs like "Will You" before, and you will again. But you might not hear one done quite this well for a long, long time. Leva and Calcagno have put together an absolutely perfect folk song. This is a song that is going to be beloved by both folk purists and fans of pop folk. I can't really explain what works so well with this pairing of artists. Sometimes musicians just click, and the result it pure magic. That's the case with "Will You."

You can watch the live performance video of "Will You" below. The self-titled album from Vivian Leva & Riley Calcagno is due out on March 12 via Free Dirt Records. You can pre-order a copy here. For more on Vivian Leva & Riley Calcagno, check out their website.

Ken's Best of 2020 - #5: The Bobby Lees - Skin Suit

I first discovered The Bobby Lees back in February. We received a promo email mentioning that their upcoming album was produced by Jon Spencer, which is going to grab my attention. I listened to "Coin" once and became instantly obsessed with the Woodstock, NY band. Their blend of punked up dirty blues (with an emphasis on the punk) is one of my soft spots for music. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion influence is heavy on Skin Suit, but not overwhelming. The Bobby Lees take JSBX's sound and go off in their own heavier, more intense direction. As I started falling down a rabbit hole of my new musical obsession, I went to their tour dates to see if they were playing near me. That's when I realized they had played the night before at O'Brien's in Boston with two other bands I like (Zip-Tie Handcuffs and Baabes). No big deal, upstate NY is semi-local, so I'm sure they'd be back soon, especially with a new album. Oh, 2020, great dasher of dreams... That could be one of the reasons I've locked onto this album so much. And ending with insanely great covers of "I'm a Man" and "Blank Generation" certainly doesn't hurt.

Songs of note: "Move," "Coin," "Guttermilk," "Riddle Daddy," "Wendy," and "Drive"

Jeff's Best of 2020 - #5: Kathleen Edwards - Total Freedom

When a favorite artist takes some time off, you both feel good that they'e doing what they need to do to stay in form but also angsty about the lack of new output. Kathleen Edwards, an all-time favorite of mine, famously quit music and opened a coffee shop. That we recieved new music at all was a pleasant surprise, and that it was this good even moreso.

While Voyaguer was a solid record, it didn't feel like Kathleen Edwards in a lot of ways. Total Freedom embraces its title in every way, sounding like the record she wanted to make as opposed to, well, one more song the radio won't like. So you have an opener like "Glenfern" that sets the table, you have lead single "Options Open" that sounds like classic Kathleen Edwards, you have rock-adjacent "Hard on Everyone," and the next thing you know you have a great album.

There's some irony that Kathleen Edwards left music at what many saw as the peak of her career, and she chose to come back when we're all stuck indoors, lacking the very Total Freedom this album espouses. Either way, I'm glad she's back and well, and I hope it stays that way.

Songs of note: "Glenfern," "Options Open," "Hard on Everyone," "Ashes to Ashes."

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

First Listen: New Releases for 11 December

Artist: Electrocute
Album: Tiger Toys
Quick Description: New poppy album from these vets.
Why You Should Listen: There's not a ton of electro, but plenty of cute.
Overall Thoughts: This is kind of intentionally adorable in all the right ways. It's happy sugary indie pop, and I was really down for what this brought me during the pandemic Christmas blues. I don't have a ton to say about it except that I loved every moment of this listen and want to hear more.
Recommendation: Give this some time.

Artist: Taylor Swift
Album: evermore
Quick Description: Second surprise album from the megastar.
Why You Should Listen: folklore was good, but this is better.
Overall Thoughts: TayTay round two gives us a knockout blow for the end of 2020. This listen is a lot more in-your-face and feels less like a lost folk album and more like a polished roots record. A song like "no body, no crime," with Haim, is a song that would fit in on any sort of classic country compilation, and Swift's potty mouth makes for songs that feel more honest than most of her recent output. I'm shocked that these were the songs that didn't make folklore, frankly. This was great.
Recommendation: A mandatory listen. No, really.

Artist: Kid Dakota
Album: Age of Roaches
Quick Description: Unassuming indie rock.
Why You Should Listen: This album repeatedly took me by surprise.
Overall Thoughts: I don't know how to describe Kid Dakota. The project has been around for a while, but I only learned of them this week with the release of Age of Roaches. It's a band I'm going to go back to, because there's a lot to love in this album. It's noisy in all the right ways, it sounds familiar yet different, and some of the songs just really jumped out at me from the very start. I like music that keeps me on my toes, and this delivers.
Recommendation: Worth adding to the rotation.

Artist: Rosie Carney
Album: The Bends
Quick Description: A quiet, introspective take on the Radiohead classic.
Why You Should Listen: It's a covers album of The Bends. Do we really need to explain this?
Overall Thoughts: This is getting some much-deserved buzz. Rosie Carney is all of us: depressed from the lockdown, she retreated into creative endeavors, and the result is an amazing take on the Radiohead album that led people into obsession territory. She makes the familiar her own, and that's a feat into itself.
Recommendation: One of the best of the week.

Artist: Sturgill Simpson
Album: Cuttin' Grass - Vol. 2
Quick Description: More bluegrass goodies from the classic country great.
Why You Should Listen: The first release in this series was awesome.
Overall Thoughts: Just pulling this out of the shortlist to highlight this volume. As I said last time, if Sturgill Simpson chose to stick solely to bluegrass, he'd be the best ever.
Recommendation: So great. So, so great.

Artist: Ben Eisenberger
Album: Soloists
Quick Description: A lovely folk effort.
Why You Should Listen: As his first widely available effort, he immediately becomes a name to watch.
Overall Thoughts: Ken sent this one over to me, and it's fairly easy to feel like you've had your share of folk singers after a time. But I'll give anything a shot, and this was one I'm glad I heard. Eisenberger knows exactly how to compliment his vocals with the sparse guitar and when to add strings for the best outcome. This was an album that repeatedly made me stop to listen closer, which doesn't happen often. If you like folk music at all, you owe it to yourself to give this a listen. I know I'll be heading back to it soon.
Recommendation: Another top listen this week.

Of note:

* Izaak Opatz - Hot and Heavy Handed (Some country-ish tunes that don't take themselves too seriously.)
* Kacy & Clayton with Marlon Williams - Plastic Bouquet (This is a gorgeous listen.)
* Alaska Reid - Big Bunny (A solid effort, "Boys From Town" was a song in heavy rotation for me this year.)
* Dueling Experts (Recognize Ali and Verbal Kent - DE2: Sand the Floor (Another solid rap collab from these two.)
* Coco Reilly - Coco Reilly
* Boris and Merzbow - 2R0I2P0
* Desolation Horse - Desolation Horse
* Helios - Domicile
* Chris Cornell - No One Sings Like You Anymore
* Julie Bergan - HARD FEELINGS
* The Avalanches - We Will Always Love You
* Tkay Maidza - Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 2
* Jordie Lane - Back in Time (The Songs Reimagined)
* High Contrast - Notes From The Underground
* M. Ward - Think of Spring
* Guided by Voices - Styles We Paid For
* Thee Oh Sees - Panther Rotate
* My Heart, an Inverted Flame - Plague Notes, Unnamed, Unknown, A Finger Dragged Through Dust
* BLACKSTARKIDS - Whatever, Man
* Kid Cudi - Man on the Moon III: The Chosen

Christmas music:

* The Myrrhderers - The Myrrhderers Sleigh Christmas / The Myrrhderers Sleigh Some More


* Call Me Spinster - Call Me Spinster (Keep an eye on this act, it's quite good.)
* Quarter-Life Crisis - Quarter-Life Crisis
* Lady Starlight and Rodhad - WSNWG006
* Chloe Foy - Covers, Vol. 1
* Lucy - Cooper B Handy's Album, Vol. 7
* Muzz - Covers
* K.Flay - Don't Judge a Song By Its Cover
* Foster the People - In the Darkest of Nights, Let the Birds Sing
* Delaney Jane - Somewhere Else
* Overcoats - The Fight (Remixed)
* Avalon Emerson - 040
* Raw Nerve
* Brittany Howard - Jaime (The Remixes)

Also out:

* Ryan Adams - Wednesday (I listened to this, and it's not good enough to put aside who Ryan Adams apparently is. Go listen to Ben Eisenberger instead, you'll like that more.)
* Deftones - White Pony (20th Anniversary Edition) * The Kills - Little Bastards
* Duncan Sheik- Live at the Cafe Carlyle
* The Mountain Goats - The Jordan Lake Sessions: Volumes 1 and 2
* Belle & Sebastian - What To Look For In Summer