Friday, December 29, 2023

Jackie West - "Tiny Flowers ii"

Photo by Ruben Alvarado

Jackie West was born in Boston, raised in St. Louis, and now lives in Brooklyn. Her latest single, "Tiny Flowers ii," has a surprisingly elegant sound that elevates it above the typical singer-songwriter fare out there. Something about West's song is just impossibly captivating. As soon as "Tiny Flowers ii" starts, you'll feel the need to drop everything and focus fully on the music. West has also worked as a jazz singer in Manhattan clubs, and despite how sparse and non-jazz the song is, some of that sneaks its way through. 

You can watch the video for "Tiny Flowers ii" below. The single is available now via Ruination Record Co. For more on Jackie West, check out the artist on Instagram.

Talk Chalk - "Disco Queen (Please Don't Kill Me)"

While researching California's Chalk Talk earlier this week, I kept stumbling on another band: Talk Chalk. The Boston based band released a single back in October that's well worth our attention. "Disco Queen (Please Don't Kill Me)" is a synth heavy and dance friendly indie rock song that has a lo-fi vibe while still being kind of epic. It's also slathered in disco, which you could probably guess based on the song title. Talk Chalk have given us a disco track in 2023 that sounds like a bizarro vintage song from the classic days of disco that still sounds modern and fresh.

You can listen to "Disco Queen (Please Don't Kill Me)" below. For more on Talk Chalk, check out the band on Instagram and Facebook. If you happen to be in the Boston area tonight and don't have plans, head on over to Deep Cuts in Medford to check out their live show.

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Ludalloy - "I Was the Wind"

Finnish shoegaze band Ludalloy have released an epic new single. Shoegaze has always been a genre of large, epic songs, but something about "I Was the Wind" just feels bigger and more epic. It has that strangely soothing and warm feeling, but the song is also laced with a sense of dread and anxiety. The guitar solos in particular have this beauty to them despite the feeling of discomfort they cause. "I Was the Wind" is a surprisingly affecting song that will pull you in within the first ten seconds.

The band says of the new single:

”The story is still very painful to reveal. It tells a true tale about the day that still haunts my nightmares and daydreams. I leave the lyrics open for everyones own interpretation. As transcripted it will be printed in the whole different magazines than the music and culture ones. 'The imperfectical wind' describes my feelings really well. That's how it also ended as the title.”

You can listen to "I Was the Wind" below. Ludalloy have an album due out in January. For more on the band, check them out on Facebook and Instagram.

Twist & Writhe - "Good as It Used to Be"

Power pop is typically a clean sounding genre, and isn't normally noisy or grimy sounding. Apparently no one told that to Twist & Writhe. The Pennsylvania band just released a new single, "Good as It Used to Be," that's heavily power pop, but with a ton of grime and noise layered over it. It's kind of like 80's Cheap Trick mixed with the punkier side of The Replacements along with when Sonic Youth would release a cover of a pop song that you couldn't quite tell if they were being sincere or mocking. Twist & Writhe are taking a few different genres and just kind of manipulating them into the sound they want to hear.

Vocalist Arthur Nusser says of the new single:

“'As Good as it Used to Be' is a call to break the feeling of monotony, while acknowledging the repetition of that continued call."

You can listen to "Good as It Used to Be" below. All Things In Time is due out January 5. For more on Twist & Writhe, check out the band on Instagram and Facebook.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Chalk Talk - "The Idiot"

I'm not quite sure how I stumbled onto Chalk Talk, but you're going to be glad I did. The San Diego based quartet have released a new single that is probably going to be called grunge, which fits, but not exactly. There is plenty of 90's alt-rock nostalgia in "The Idiot," and the song is heavy at times, but I wouldn't quite say it's grunge. The song has this gorgeous sound to it that leans more into dream pop, but there are far too many discordant bursts to quite allow it to be dream pop. At times the guitars are either swirling or crunching, and there is a layer of aggression hiding just below the beauty of the song. "The Idiot" reminds me of a louder version of Belly.

You can listen to "The Idiot" below. For more on Chalk Talk, check out the artist on Instagram.

Savoir Faire Covers Chris Isaak

Photo via Facebook

Back when I saw Savoir Faire last December, one of the highlights was a cover of Chris Isaak's iconic "Wicked Game." Last week, the Boston based artist released an official version of her cover. The song feels perfectly made for Savoir Faire to cover in her retro meets indie rock style. Savoir Faire adds an even heavier layer of noir onto the cover, which comes across with more menace than the original. Plus, the guitar has more of a surf rock sound than the original, making it sound more vintage than the thirty year old Isaak version. It almost makes the song sound like it could be a long lost James Bond theme.

You can listen to Savoir Faire's version of "Wicked Game" below. For more on Savoir Faire, check out the artist's website.

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Wyn & The White Light - "Can the World Change"

Photo by Marion Earley

For Wyn & the White Light's new single, Wyn Doran looked back on a near death experience the day after Christmas in her 20's that left her hospitalized until her birthday in early January. During a songwriting retreat with Ben Folds, Folds issued a "six lines" challenge, where writers only get six total lyrical lines to form an entire song structure. The resulting song, "Can the World Change," is a sparse and intimate song that shows Doran's raw emotions and focuses on her vocals. Referring to a song as haunting is a bit of a cliche, but "Can the World Change" is one of the more haunting songs we've heard in a long, long time. As powerful and affecting as the songs is, it also feels quite fragile. 

You can listen to "Can the World Change" below. Luck is due out this winter. For more on Wyn & the White Light, check out the artist's website.

Justin Golden with Devil's Coattails - "Downtown Blues"

"Downtown Blues" was originally recorded by Frank Stokes in 1928, and now it's Justin Golden's turn to record a version. Golden's version sees the Richmond, VA blues artist enlisting bluegrass band Devil's Coattails. It's a song that blends traditional blues with bluegrass for one of the more unique roots based sounds. Golden's voice shines in any style, but it was just made for blues. If you are into any of the genres under the Americana label, there's going to be a lot to love with "Downtown Blues." 

You can listen to Justin Golden's version of "Downtown Blues" below. The song is available with a B-side of "One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer," which is a more jazzy version of the blues standard dating back to the 1950's. Golden Country Vol. 1 is due out in January. For more on Justin Golden, check out the artist's website.

Friday, December 22, 2023

The Dollyrots Cover "Auld Lang Syne"

Photo by Jen Rosenstein

"Auld Lang Syne" is the New Year's Eve song of choice, and this year The Dollyrots have decided to take it on. The pop punk duo released their version of it, and as you probably guessed, it's a punked up version. It's not a groundbreaking version of the song, but it is ridiculously fun, and that's all you truly want for a version of "Auld Lang Syne." But as rockin' as The Dollyrots make it, they add some genuine heart to this one. Instead of just the snotty punk version everyone does, this one actually has optimism and positivity.

Kelly Ogden says of her band's take on the NYE classic:

“We’ve done Christmas originals and covers, a Thanksgiving song… figured we should round it out with something to play at New Years. Usually when Auld Lang Syne comes on I feel a bit wistful… I mean maybe it’s the champagne but it’s also time to reflect on time passed and what we hope for the future. Hopefully, the future is bright and full of goodness, so we made our version reflect that! And put in a little request for all of us to be better to one another. Maybe this year we can feel happy and hopeful when we hear this version of a classic."

You can listen to The Dollyrots' version of "Auld Lang Syne" below. It is out now on Wicked Cool Records. For more on the band, check out their website. Upcoming tour dates are below the song.

January with Bowling For Soup and Lit1/21 at Revolution in Ft Lauderdale, FL1/23 at Vinyl Music Hall in Pensacola, FL1/24 at Southport Hall in New Orleans, LA1/25 at Ponte Verde Concert Hall in Ponte Verde, FL1/26 at Hard Rock Live in Orlando, FL1/28 at Jannus Live in St. Petersburg, FL

March -3/7 at X-Ray Arcade in Cudahy, WI with Gymshorts3/8 at James Ballentine “Uptown” VFW in Minneapolis, MN with Gymshorts3/9 at Reggie’s in Chicago, IL with Gymshorts3/10 at Old Rock House in St. Louis, MO with Gymshorts3/11 at Night Shop in Bloomington, IL with Gymshorts3/12 at Southgate House in Newport, KY with Gymshorts3/13 at Melody House in Indianapolis, IN with Gymshorts3/14 at Rumba Café in Columbus, OH with Gymshorts3/15 at Sanctuary in Detroit, MI with local support3/16 at Beachland Tavern, Cleveland, OH with local support

Aaron & the Lord Cover "Do You Hear What I Hear?"

We're running the risk of becoming an Aaron & the Lord fanpage at this point, but how are we supposed to not bring you their version of "Do You Hear What I Hear?" It's not quite as dark as their previous holiday song, but it's still pretty dark for a version of this Christmas standard. It has that dark New Wave synth sound mixed with noisy 90's indie rock thing going for it, but the joy of the Christmas spirit still comes bubbling through despite of Aaron Perrino's attempts to stifle it. This is a good one to take a break from "All I Want for Christmas is You" or "Wonderful Christmastime," and it's even better if you have any relatives that demand you play carols at your get together.

You can listen to Aaron & the Lord's version of "Do You Hear What I Hear?" below. The song is currently available via Bandcamp. For more on the artist, check them out on Facebook and Instagram.

blindspot Cover "Please Come Home for Christmas"

"Please Come Home for Christmas" is one of the most common holiday songs around. It was originally done by Charles Brown in 1960, and has been covered a bunch since then by the likes of Jon Bon Jovi and The Eagles. Now it's Boston's blindspot's turn! They typically release music that lives squarely in between rock and pop, not really choosing either more than the other. Their version of "Please Come Home for Christmas" is surprisingly true to the original. It's a soulful cover that could truly have been released any time over the last sixty plus years. Alexa Economou absolutely nails the vocals on this one, and truly shines throughout.

You can watch blindspot's version of "Please Come Home for Christmas" below. For more on the band, check out their website.

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Lily Seabird - "Cavity"

Photo by Patrick Hintz

Burlington, VT's Lily Seabird's latest single is one you're going to want to check out. "Cavity" mixes indie rock and alt-country in a way that is deliriously engaging. It would have made a fantastic standard folk or singer-songwriter track if it stayed on its original course, but instead Seabird has crafted a shockingly noisy ballad. Listening to "Cavity" reminds me of the first time I listened to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot or Ripely Pine in that I truly have no idea what is going to come next. Both albums created were based on standard alt-country and indie rock, but then just went off in their own directions without any warning. Seabird does this with "Cavity" in a way that is a pure sonic delight. 

Lily Seabird says of her upcoming album:

“The album is about loss, coming of age, and sadness but there are also all these moments where happiness takes over. It can be two things at once: life isn't just pain and sadness, there’s also joy. They can all exist at the same time. Alas, is an expression of grief but it’s also for letting go.”

You can watch the video for "Cavity" below. Alas is due out January 12 on bud tapes, and is available for pre-order on Bandcamp. For more on Lily Seabird, check out the artist on Instagram.

Mol Sullivan - "Still Tryin'"

Photo by Brooke Shanesy

Mol Sullivan has been a musician for fifteen years, but is only releasing her debut album next month. The latest single from it, "Still Tryin'," is one of those songs that blurs the lines between folk and indie rock. (Aka, exactly what we love here!) It's a slow song that sort of plods along at its own pace in a kinda upbeat way although you just know the song masks some darkness. It's a compelling song that has us rooting for the Cincinnati musician even more. "Still Tryin'" is a wonderfully written song that is amplified even more by Sullivan's endearing charm.

Mol Sullivan says of the video for "Still Tryin'":

“The idea behind the ‘Still Tryin'’ video was to chronicle a day in my life at the time I wrote the song, during the dawning era of my sobriety from alcohol. It's the first music video I've made thus far that is narrative-based and that doesn't rely on the support of campy themes and characters to deliver the punches. It's a vulnerable display of what it looked like when my life was a very one-day-at-a-time affair and when the power of music and community helped keep my chin above water.”

You can watch the video for "Still Tryin'" below. GOOSE is due out January 26, and is available for pre-order via Bandcamp. For more on Mol Sullivan, check out the artist's website.

Elephant Stone - "Another Year Gone"

Laurine Jousserand

Montreal's Elephant Stone have released a new single that's perfect as wen get set to say goodbye to 2023. "Another Year Gone" is an under two minute little psych-pop song that doesn't sound like a single, but more like your favorite b-side on a beloved album. It has a very 1960's sound to it, while having a slightly more modern sound. To me it's kind of like Elliott Smith covering a track from The Monkees. It has an upbeat 60's vibe, but more in how bands sounded like that in the mid-90's. 

Rishi Dhir says of his band's newest single:

“In this repetitive existence, it was easy to become untethered, adrift in thoughts while feeling emotionally and physically suspended. 'Another Year Gone' is an anthem for these disorienting times. It's a narrative of contrasts—between those grappling with stress, fear, and economic hardship, and those who profited from the chaos. Above all, this song is a musical embrace, a reassurance to hold close the ones you love and to tell them that, despite the world's turmoil, everything will be okay."

You can watch the video for "Another Year Gone" below. Back into the Dream is due out February 23 on Little Cloud Records, and is available for pre-order here. For more on Elephant Stone, check out the band's website. Upcoming tour dates are below the video.

March 22        Montréal, QC @ Théâtre Outremont
March 23        Troy, NY @ No Fun
March 24        Somerville, MA @ The Rockwell
March 26        Brooklyn, NY @ TV Eye
March 27        Washington, DC @ Comet Ping Pong
March 28        Columbus, OH @ Rumba Cafe
March 29        Chicago, IL @ The Empty Bottle
March 31        Toronto, ON @ The Garrison

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

BEDTIMEMAGIC - Sleep Together

Boston's BEDTIMEMAGIC are heavier than what we normally cover here at If It's Too Loud..., but sometimes the heavier stuff just works for us. We're late bringing you their newest EP (it was released back in September), but Sleep Together is a must listen. It's six crushing songs that combine metal, punk, and whatever brand of noise you want. If Quicksand and Helmet were considered to be metal for indie rock fans, BEDTIMEMAGIC might be metal for noise freaks. It's like early Lightning Bolt cranked up past eleven, and then it just keeps plowing through. Plus, they inject just barely enough melody to keep you hooked, so it might be pure noise, but it's pure noise masking the barest of harmony and song structure.

You can listen to "Overslept" below. Sleep Together is available now via Bandcamp. For more on BEDTIMEMAGIC, check out the band on Facebook and Instagram.

Rick Rude - "Winded Whale"

New Hampshire's Rick Rude is readying their third album, and we can check out the first single from it. "Winded Whale" has this perfect mixture of being noisy and sort of aggressive indie rock while still being catchy and quirky. The song has a rambling quality that reminds me of Pavement with the edge and explosiveness of a band like Sunny Day Real Estate. The song is fun and has a sense of humor without being too jokey or cute. Rick Rude are one of those bands I've always known by name (having been a wrestling fan in the late 1980's helps) and always mean to check them out more, so this upcoming album might be the perfect opportunity for us all. 

You can listen to "Winded Whale" below. Laverne is due out February 2 on Best Brother Records, and is available for pre-order through Bandcamp. For more on Rick Rude, check out the band on Facebook and Instagram.

Circus Trees - "Negative Feedback"

Massachusetts based Circus Trees are "Three sisters, sad music." Their latest single, "Negative Feedback," doesn't have the same bombastic qualities of their previous release ("Save Yourself"), but it's every bit as effective. "Negative Feedback" is more introspective, especially at the start. Singer Finola McCarthy is projecting every emotion in the song in her vocals, and while this one might not get as loud as we're used to from Circus Trees, when there are bursts of noise it's somehow more effecting. Sometimes songwriting can get lost in the midst of loud/quiet/loud songs, but that's not the case with "Negative Feedback."

You can watch the video for "Negative Feedback" below. Circus Trees have an album due in early 2024 on Five By Two Records. For more on the band, check them out on Instagram and Facebook.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Wilco's Solid Sound Festival 2024 Looks Amazing

Wilco have been hosting a three day festival every other year for a while now, and we just haven't been able to make it to one yet. That might need to change for 2024 as the line up is bonkers. There are obviously multiple sets from Wilco planned for the weekend, but they brought their A-game with the rest of the line up. Highlights include the brilliant country-rock of Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, the artsy post punk of England's Dry Cleaning, the influential power pop of Nick Lowe and Los Straightjackets, the Americana of Iris Dement, Wednesday's alt-country meets indie rock, Chicago's new favorite indie rockers Horsegirl, the hardcore punk of Soul Glo, more Chicago indie rock from Ratboys, and a ton more music! Plus, non musical entertainment like John Hodgman's Comedy Cabaret, the Song Exploder podcast, and more.

Solid Sound 2024 will once again take place at Mass MoCA in North Adams, MA from June 28-30. Tickets and more information can be found here. The full line up is below.

WilcoJason Isbell and the 400 UnitDry CleaningNick Lowe & Los StraitjacketsIris DementHailu MergiaJohn Hodgman’s Comedy CabaretJeff Tweedy & FriendsWednesdayHorsegirlWater From Your EyesSoul GloRatboysJoanna SternbergYoung@HeartStory PiratesCourtney Marie AndrewsYoung Fresh FellowsSong Exploder w/ Hrishikesh Hirway & Jeff TweedyFenne LilyHorse LordsMary Halvorson & Tomas FujiwaraEtran De L'AirMikaela DavisAutumn DefenseSaccata Quartet feat. Nels Cline, Darin Gray, Chris Corsano and Glenn KotcheMikael JorgensenEucademixSylvan Esso DJ SetSteve Keene (live painting)Ghost Town Screenprinting DemoBellweather Records & Autumn Records Pop-Up Vinyl StoredysFUNKcrewSubstack Pop-Up Interviews

Live Shows: The Slackers, Mustard Plug, The Freecoasters, & Stop the Presses, The Sinclair, Cambridge, MA 12/18/23

A four band ska bill on a Sunday night? Sometimes when it's this good, you have to suck it up and go out on a work night, pretending you still have the energy you used to. The Slackers and Mustard Plug have bands I've been meaning to see for a while now, and The Freecoasters and Stop the Presses ended up being happy discoveries! 

Stop the Presses opened up the show with an upbeat blend of horn free ska. They were cheery and upbeat, since this is ska and all, but the band had a bit of a hidden edge to them. They might not have been the most punk band of the night in their sound, but they were in their attitude. They even busted out a ska cover of Bikini Kill's "Rebel Girl." (Ska covers ended up being a theme of the evening.) Unfortunately, I missed some of their set as they started before the advertised start time. Hopefully next time...

Up next were The Freecoasters out of southern Florida. They included a trombone player, and my first thought when I saw them was that they looked a little more southern rock than ska, and turns out their sound was a southern rock-ified version of ska. I also thought that they sounded like a ska version of Janis Joplin once Claire Liparulo started singing, so their cover song was naturally "Mercedes Benz." I certainly didn't have discovering a southern rock ska band on my 2023 bingo card, and I definitely didn't have enjoying it as much as I did on there!

Mustard Plug came next, and they definitely brought the ska punk to the show. They inspired the biggest pit of the night (more people dancing around into each other than leaping and punching), and with good reason. They doubled the number of horns to two, and played an energetic set heavy on songs from the just released (and great!) album Where Did All My Friends Go? A new song like "Vampire" fit in perfectly with a classic like "Beer (Song)." They also play some of the darker songs in the ska punk universe, such as "Mr. Smiley" about a murderer. Still a fun time! Their ska cover was of Fugazi's "Waiting Room," which was shockingly faithful to the original as far as ska covers go.

The Slackers closed the night with their blend of ska and reggae. They played together in a way that only a band can when they've been together over three decades. It was a laid back set, with The Slackers playing loosely and clearly having a great time doing it. Their stage banter was a blast, and you get the true sense that they'd be doing this if only five people were showing up every night. "Married Girl" may have come second in their setlist, but somehow the evening just kept getting better and better from then on. The Slackers are definitely one of those bands everyone needs to see at least once. I may have missed their cover of the night during a bathroom break, so please feel free to fill me in if you were there!

Ken's Best of 2023 - #1: Caroline Rose - The Art of Forgetting

If 2023 is the year of artists reinventing themselves, my number one album has to be Caroline Rose's The Art of Forgetting. I've been a fan since their alt-country days of 2014's I Will Not Be Afraid, through the changes since. 

The Art of Forgetting is a concept album of sorts. It's about Rose processing the pandemic (their previous album, Superstar, was released March 6, 2020), along with losing their grandmother to dementia and a particularly rough break up. That makes this album not a particularly fun one. It's not a downer, per se, but it's not exactly filled with road trip ready party jams. But, The Art of Forgetting is art. This is an art pop album that sees Rose pushing their boundaries, and then pushing some more. Even a song that starts off relatively simply like "Miami" slowly veers off into a more experimental direction, and might be the showcase of the album.

When I saw Caroline Rose back in April, they commented that they felt they had made a classic, but people hadn't quite discovered it yet. The Art of Forgetting feels like a cult classic that hasn't found its audience yet. This one could very well end up being the type of album that takes time to find its correct audience and ends up slowly building and building a fanbase, much like Pinkerton and In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. 

Songs of note (even though it should be listened as a full album): "Miami," "Everywhere I Go I Bring the Rain," "The Doldrums," "Tell Me What You Want"

Jeff's Best of 2023 - #1: Josaleigh Pollett - In The Garden, By The Weeds

Sometimes you feel like an album changes you on a molecular level. In The Garden, By The Weeds may have done exactly that to me this year.

It all starts with "YKWIM," which has a glitchy music box quality to its intro before rolling directly into an upbeat number with sweet harmonies and an even sweeter sentiment. As the album progresses, it builds on the entire musical theme, with plenty of electronic drums, keyboards, and noisy guitar serving as a foundation for Josaleigh Pollett's gorgeous voice. The album is expertly sequenced, musically deft, and reveals something a little new and different on every listen.

"YKWIM," "Empty Things," "Earthquake Song"... they all give a sort of Laura Veirs-by-way-of Jenny Owen Youngs vibe; the sort of song structure and emotional lift that keeps you hooked while keeping you guessing. Even more transitional songs like "The Nothing Answered Back" shine through with ideas and musical choices that drew me in over and over again.

This was my favorite album of this year for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it made me feel things on repeat listens in a way few albums have these days. It's criminally underheard from a criminally underrated singer-songwriter, and we're truly lucky to have this in the world.

Songs of Note: "YKWIM," "Empty Things," "Bad Dreams (Not Broken)," "cinderblocks," "Earthquake Song," "Jawbreaker," "The Nothing Answered Back"

Monday, December 18, 2023

The Boatsmen - "Why Wait"

Sweden's The Boatsmen are back with more high energy rock and roll! "Why Wait" might actually be a little more melodic than what we've heard from them previously, but that doesn't mean they're slowing down at all. "Why Wait" is still a hard rock song that leans into garage and punk without truly being either. This is just pure hard rock and roll, this time with some more melody and maybe even some power pop influences. "Why Wait" sounds like Cheap Trick deciding to rock a little harder than usual. And then there's the guitar solo which should come with a warning label about your face getting melted off.

You can watch the video for "Why Wait" below. Hard Livin' is due out December 29 on Spaghetty Town Records and Ghost Highway Recordings. For more on The Boatsmen, check out their website.

Live Shows: Hallelujah the Hills, Eldridge Rodriguez, and Aaron and the Lord, The Sinclair, Cambridge, MA 12/15/23

Mid December starts to become a bit of a nightmare. The pressures of Christmas are fully on, family and friends start having near constant Christmas parties, and there are dozens of holiday activities you simply must do or you're not celebrating right. But sometimes there's a night of music you have to go to, and that was the case with the amazing triple bill of Hallelujah the Hills, Eldridge Rodriguez, and Aaron and the Lord.

Aaron and the Lord is the collaboration of Aaron Perrino of The Sheila Divine and Steve Lord of Dirty Bangs. Their music tends to be dark and moody, leaning a little more into the world of New Wave or pop than their previous bands have. They've gotten even darker recently with singles like "The Darkness" and "Lilydale," which have reached into epic territory. Even though this was my fourth time seeing Aaron and the Lord, I'm always surprised at how much of a rock band they are live. Sure, it's still dark and moody, but live they just flat out rock. The brooding songs turn into full on rock songs without losing anything we've liked about the band previously. 

Eldridge Rodriguez played second, and was the only band I had not seen live at this point. Another band specializing in dark and moody music (At one point singer Cameron Kieber asked the crowd "Who wants to hear an upbeat one?" and when the crowd cheered, he responded with "Well you're fucked") that rocks harder than expected. Songs like "A Feeling that Won't Go Away" and "Without All Your Teeth You Can't Get Into Heaven" from this year's great Atrophy translated great to a live performance. Despite all the doom and gloom from the songs, Kieber was a captivating and chatty frontman. Patter with the audience was some of the best I've heard in years, and kept the show a bit more upbeat instead of derailing a show, which is what usually happens. They closed with "Baby I'm Alone Tonight from their 2011 EP Christmas on the Allston-Brighton Line (which I didn't even know existed!) and had Santa come out with a sack of t-shirts and candy to toss into the crowd. Moody indie rock can be a great time.

Hallelujah the Hills took the stage and started off with a cover of "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" that seemed like it would just be a quick one verse shot from singer Ryan H. Walsh until the rest of the band joined in for the full song. Over the years, one of my favorite things about seeing Hallelujah the Hills live is when they play a new single you haven't seen performed live before, and it just unfolds into this mind-blowing epic. That was the case with brand new single "Alone, In Love." The seven and a half minute single was just begging to be played live, and it blossomed into a rambling and loose song that felt like a rootsy version of Sonic Youth. Somehow most of the noise and chaos for the band is created by viola player David Michael Curry, which you need to see to believe. From there the band traded off playing songs from their upcoming four album DECK project with known favorites. "People Keep Dying (And No One Can Stop It)" will always be a live favorite, with one of the most unlikely shout along choruses out there. Hallelujah the Hills are just one of those bands that should be internationally known megastars, but are somehow one of Boston's many bands that deserve far more attention.

Ken's Best of 2023 - #2: Sapling - amor fati

I loved Sapling's 2020 album No Sequoia, and I was looking forward to amor fati to be released in May. I wasn't quite expecting to love this album as much as I did. The songs on amor fati are somehow both more pop and more experimental than the previous album. Sapling's sense of humor isn't as apparent this time around, but it's more biting. Plus, it's noise punk masquerading as prog rock? 

amor fati gets better and better with each listen, as you always discover more to like each time. "A Fox Upon the Tomb" and "11:37" are the songs that initially grab you, but others slowly grow on you until they become favorites. "The Little Monkey Who Wasn't Very Good at the Accordion: A Bedtime Story" is a spoken word story by Amber ToiletFire Tortorelli over accordion that was amusing the first time, but is now one of my favorites on the album. "Inaction in Action" might be the best example of a song that is both more pop and more experimental. At first it seems like the poppiest thing Sapling has ever done, but deviates into odd noise experiments... while still being pop. If you haven't spent too much time with it yet, amor fati is definitely worth more of your time.

Songs of note: "A Fox Upon the Tomb," "11:37," "Inaction in Action," "Taboo"

Jeff's Best of 2023 - #2: Noble Dust - A Picture for a Frame

Sometimes an album from a local act comes out of nowhere, grabs you by the lapel, and refuses to let go. That's what Noble Dust did this year with A Picture for a Frame.

In many ways, this album is Jeff catnip - it's folk-adjacent music with soaring instrumental choices, but also inspired by historical letters between the lead singer's grandparents during World War II. The total package creates a timeless-sounding record that feels like it would come out of a brewpub in 2023 or a rural tavern in 1923. It's just a beautiful record, with so many lovely little choices throughout - the distant-sounding trumpet, the strings, the lyricism of songs like "At Sea," the jaunty love song "Abbey" (which is probably my favorite song of the year)... it all just works and needs to be heard to truly appreciate.

Noble Dust doesn't have a ton of Spotify listeners, and they're a Boston-area act that deserves to be at the top of everyone's playlists. A Picture for a Frame is a revelation that shows the best of what folk music can accomplish.

Songs of Note: "At Last, At Home," "In Fields," "Abbey," "At Sea," "Last Dance at the Grove"

Friday, December 15, 2023

Saigon and Fredo featuring Grandmaster Caz - "Lyrical Genius"

For their upcoming collaborative album, Brooklyn rapper Saigon and Swedish producer Fredo wanted to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of hip hop, specifically "the Jordan era" of 1986 to 1996." For their new single, "Lyrical Genius," they enlisted the legendary MC Grandmaster Caz. This song certainly doesn't sound like anything from this century. "Lyrical Genius" is purely old school, and reminds me a lot of vintage Def Jam or Delicious Vinyl releases. This is the best style of throwback song, and sounds like it's from both the 80's and 90's in its production. Saigon and Fredo have given us a perfect way to prepare for your weekend.

Saigon talks about the upcoming album and collaboration with Grandmaster Caz:

“I made The Jordan Era to celebrate the reason I am the man I am today.  I remember my mother listening to the Cold Crush Brothers, whose main lyricist was a guy named Grandmaster Caz. Growing up, I idolized Big Daddy Kane.  When I got a chance to meet him, he told me he idolized Grandmaster Caz.  My generation, we are the grand-babies of Caz; so making this record and video is an ode to the amazing culture of Hip-Hop that I am so proud to be a part of.”

You can watch the video for "Lyrical Genius" below. The Jordan Era is due out in early 2024 on Payday Records. For more on Saigon, check him out on Instagram. You can find Fredo on Instagram here.

Vivid Bloom - Out of Focus

Photo by Sasha Pedro

You ever start listening to a new band and know you're going to love it within the first twenty seconds? That's how I felt listening to Vivid Bloom. The Boston based shoegaze band recently released a three song EP that has blown me away. The opening song, "Believe," had barely even begun when I knew I found a new favorite. It's shoegaze that drifts into the dreamy side of the genre, but it also has this unexpected crunch to it that you don't normally hear in shoegaze or dream pop. Out of Focus is made up of songs that give you that warm embrace you expect, but also have this biting edge to them at the same time. It's kind of like if Sonic Youth tried shoegaze out, but got distracted. As any of our readers know, there is a 90's rock revival that's been going on for a while now, and Vivid Bloom are going to hit a nostalgia button for you despite being a brand new band.

You can listen to "Believe" below. Out of Focus is out now via Bandcamp. For more on Vivid Bloom, check out the band on Instagram and Facebook.

Ken's Best of 2023 - #3: Wednesday - Rat Saw God

Say what you will about Spotify, but thanks to it I discovered Wednesday. They kept getting played at the end of albums I was listening to, and I kept wanting to hear more. I quickly became a fan, and ended up adoring their 2023 album Rat Saw God.

I think Wednesday can be summed up by my wife's reaction to hearing them: Are they indie rock or are they country? And my answer was yes. They have one of the most unique sounds out there today. It's a noisy version of indie rock that still has enough pop hooks to keep you listening, and just enough twang to countrify it more than a little bit. A song like "Bull Believer" is a giant, epic indie rock song, while "Chosen to Deserve" is an off-kilter country jam. Wednesday play with Drive-By Truckers quite a bit, which makes perfect sense. They're both rock bands with a hard country edge to them. It's not too many bands with a pedal steel player that can inspire mosh pits, but that's what Wednesday does at their live shows. Mixing indie rock, grunge, and country is kind of a sweet spot for me, which is why I can't get enough of Wednesday.

Songs of note: "Hot Rotten Grass Smell," "Bull Believer," "Chosen to Deserve," and "TV in the Gas Pump"

Jeff's Best of 2023: #3 - Aesop Rock - Integrated Tech Solutions

Concept albums can be very hit-or-miss, but Aesop Rock's second straight solo concept record after Spirit World Field Guide is not only his best solo effort in some time, but is one of his best efforts period.

There's always a danger, when having a "technology and its impacts" piece of art in front of you, that it becomes incredibly strident, dated, and out-of-step (if not out of touch entirely - looking at you, The Circle by Dave Eggers). Aesop Rock puts that aside very early, setting up the aesthetic from the very start before the driving... everything of "Mindful Solutionism." From there it's classic Aesop Rock - "Pigeonometry" feels vast and elevated in its scope, "Kyanite Toothpick" having a battle rap feel, and even a more spoken-word piece like "On Failure" feels on brand and on point. In short? This album rules, and I'm glad it exists.

Songs of Note: "Mindful Solutionism," "Infinity Fill Goose Down," "Pigeonometry," "Kyanite Toothpick," "Salt and Pepper Squid," "All City Nerve Map"

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Save Ferris - "Xmas Blue"

Back in the 90's, I was too cool to be a fan of Save Ferris. Looking back, I was apparently wrong as they were one of the more fun third wave ska bands, which is saying quite a bit. The band is back with their first original song in six years, and it's a holiday song! "Xmas Blue" might be a Christmas punk song, but unlike most punk or ska holiday songs, this one isn't bratty or sneering at the holiday. It's more of a Christmas themed break up song, and it's one of the more fun break up songs out there. Possibly because it reminds me a bunch of vintage Letters to Cleo, just... you know... ska.

Singer Monique Powell says of her band's latest song:

“I wrote the song about someone I knew that went through a hard divorce, and even two years later was still so obsessed with his ex-wife that it was borderline stalking."

You can listen to "Xmas Blue" below. Save Ferris is promising more new music in 2024, and I promise to not think I'm too cool this time around. For more on the band, check them out on Facebook and Instagram.

Abbie Barrett - "Christmas Star"

Boston "rock, sometimes not rock" artist Abbie Barrett has released a Christmas single for 2023. "Christmas Star" is a little more holiday sounding than most songs we've been covering this season. It has a dreamlike quality that somehow lives in the worlds of New Wave, art rock, and folk. It's a beautiful track that gives you a feeling of floating, and is both laid back and epic at the same time. "Christmas Season" is the perfect mix of traditional holiday and hipster rock to keep things interesting. 

You can listen to "Christmas Star" below. The song is available on Abbie Barrett's Bandcamp. For more on Barrett, check out the artist's website.

Ken's Best of 2023 - #4: Be Your Own Pet - Mommy

When I first heard Be Your Own Pet way back in 2005/2006, I felt like I was far too old to be into them. I was pushing 30, and they were teenagers, but I kept reminding myself that if Thurston Moore and Iggy Pop could be fans, so could I. They disbanded shortly after, and every so often I wondered what they were up to. Suddenly, a few reunion shows were announced, and they released a comeback album in September.

With Mommy, Be Your Own Pet and I are now the same age. The songs still have the same punk fury and sense of humor as their original releases, just toned down a bit. Like Jemina Pearl says in "Goodtime!" "I got two kids and a mortgage." Maybe it's because they've been pent up for a decade and a half, but Be Your Own Pet have barely slowed. (Just the appropriate amount.) Mommy is filled with songs about aging, mental health, lefty politics, etc. It's a great punk record for middle aged people that haven't given up and started listening to bro country yet. Plus, it's just as much fun as anything on Get Awkward or their self-titled 2006 album. Welcome back, Be Your Own Pet. Please feel free to stick around for a long while this time around.

Songs of note: "Worship the Whip," "Goodtime!," "Bad Mood Rising," "Hand Grenade" 

Jeff's Best of 2023 - #4: Atmosphere - So Many Other Realities Exist Simultaneously

This album changed how I listen to rap music.

I'm still new-ish to rap. Outside of the super-popular stuff, my knowledge and understanding of rap music was really, really, really low until about 10 years ago. Even today, I tend to like stuff a little more off the beaten path; it took until this past summer for me to "get" Kendrick Lamar, for example, even though I gravitated to an act like Atmosphere rather easily.

It was probably when "Sculpting With Fire" dropped at some point late last year that I realized this would be something truly special. The song doesn't adhere to any real expectations, which sets itself up as a truly disorienting listen out of context. In context of an album with some truly incredible sampling and memorable verses throughout, peppered with a number of shorter vignette songs to ease the transition? This sat near the top of my list for a while before the last month or so - the whole thing is near flawless whether with the uplifting opener "Okay," the aggressive "Talk Talk," or the sneaky favorite "In My Head."

This is not my favorite rap album of the year - that comes tomorrow. But was this probably the most important rap album of my year? Absolutely.

Songs of Note: "Okay," "In My Head," "Talk Talk," "Holding My Breath," "Sculpting With Fire"

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Shadow Show - "Mystic Spiral"

We loved Shadow Show's Silhouettes back in 2023, so we're thrilled that they're back with new music. The Detroit trio just released "Mystic Spiral," and if you loved their retro psych garage rock before, you're going to adore this one. Shadow Show amped up the psychedelia with the new song. Their sound seems to have progressed further into the 60's while still keeping the garage edge and the pop hooks. "Mystic Spiral" is a great song and a perfect reintroduction to a band we've been waiting to hear more from. They're a lot of fun, and as catchy as can be.

Shadow Show say of their new single:

"'Mystic Spiral' is an invitation into the world of Shadow Show. The first single off their upcoming album, Fantasy Now!, presents concepts of escapism, mysticism, and a sonic evolution of all that’s come before. Enjoy the ride!" 

You can watch the video for "Mystic Spiral" below. Fantasy Now! is due out February 16 on Stolen Body Records and Little Racoon Records, and is available for pre-order through Bandcamp. For more on Shadow Show, check out the band's website.

Mento Buru - "Christmas Time in Bakersfield"

Seven piece Central California Latin ska reggae band Mento Buru are following up their 2020 Christmas EP with another due out this Friday, and we have a song we can check out from it now. "Christmas Time in Bakersfield" defies the usual ska or punk Christmas song by actually being earnest and not sarcastic. It's kind of beautiful, and while it may not be filled with jingle bells, it still sounds like a holiday song while still being a ska song. I could be misinterpreting it, but there seem to be a few sonic shout outs to Christmas classics like "Frosty the Snowman." "Christmas Time in Bakersfield" is the perfect kind of Christmas song to help freshen up your stale holiday playlists.

Lead vocalist Matt Munoz says of the upcoming holiday release:

“We had such an overwhelming response to our last holiday release. There was no doubt in our minds that we had to keep this project going. We are so Thankful to KCSOS and our generous community sponsors for this collaboration and look forward to sharing this new collection of songs with our fans who’ve given us so much support all these years. Merry Christmas and Feliz Navidad!”

You can watch the lyric video for "Christmas Time in Bakersfield" below. East Bakersfield Christmas II is due out December 15. For more on Mento Buru, check out the band on Facebook and Instagram.