Album: Really From
Artist: Really From
Release Date: March 12, 2021
Label: Topshelf Records
- “Try Lingual”
- “I’m From Here”
- “In the Spaces”
This Boston-based band gets its name from the question asked of its mixed-race members, “Where are you really from?” The lyrics explore identity and social awareness, set to music that is virtuosic and eclectic. In one album you can hear jazz fusion, aggressive indie rock, and acoustic singer-songwriter styles seamlessly blended. The Pitchfork review of this album is very insistent on calling Really From’s style as emo and “math rock,” a genre I’m pretty sure they just made up. But whatever the style, I know that I really like it.
Album: Tell Me I’m Bad
Release Date: February 5, 2021
Label: Exploding in Sound Records
- “Tell Me I’m Bad”
- “She Wants to Go and Party”
Thoughts: The Western Massachusetts trio Editrix combines sweet singsong vocals over shredding guitar. Both the vocals and guitar are provided by Wendy Eisenberg, while Steve Cameron plays bass and Josh Daniel plays drums. The great punk/indie rock melodies support lyrics that are often political but also humorous. I found a great piece online that breaks down each song, something I’d love to see more of: https://www.talkhouse.com/a-guide-to-editrixs-tell-me-im-bad/
Album: Self Worth
Release Date: October 30, 2020
Label: Captured Tracks
- “This Feeling is Disgusting”
- “Gather, Really”
- “It’s a Frog’s World”
- “The Family’s Broke”
Thoughts: Mourn, a quartet from Barcelona, is a band that makes loud, energetic punk rock tracks with shouted lyrics. I like that kind of thing. It feels like an album for “our COVID times” with the feelings of life’s many problems fully expressed, but also counterbalanced by a sense of resilience.
Album: Jump Rope Gazers
Artist: The Beths
Release Date: July 10, 2020
Label: Carpark Records
- I’m Not Getting Excited
- Jump Rope Gazers
- Do You Want Me Now
The New Zealand quartet lead by vocalist Elizabeth Stokes performs perfect power pop. The Beths draw on a lot of pop/rock traditions but never seem to be derivative. The songs are head boppers while the lyrics are tender and introspective. In short, it’s perfect music for rocking out in a Covid Summer.
Note: The Beths’ “Future Me Hates Me” was my 19th favorite song of 2018.
Artist: Thao & The Get Down Stay Down
Release Date: May 15, 2020
Label: Ribbon Music
- Pure Cinema
- How Could I
- I’ve Got Something
I’m a long-time fan of the work of fellow William & Mary alum Thao Nguyen, so I was excited when Thao & The Get Down Stay Down released their newest album in May. Doubly so when I saw that Thao Nguyen and her many collaborators put together the first great pandemic music video, filmed on Zoom, for the lead single “Phenom.”
Lyrically, the album explores Nguyen’s recently outed queer identity and reconciles it with her Vietnamese-American heritage. Musically, the songs sound different from the band’s earlier works. The sound draws on a variety of influences from blues rock to 80s post-punk to jazz to indie pop with some tracks incorporating hip-hop elements. It’s creative and original, and a little bit quirky but also very catchy. It’s a great grab bag that rewards multiple listens.
What if I didn’t review any albums for some time and then did a bunch at once? Again?
Album: The Competition
Artist: Lower Dens
Release Date: September 6, 2019
Favorite Tracks: “Two Faced Love” and “Young Republicans”
Thoughts: These songs have a lush sound reminiscent of the 1980s New Romantics. Which is fine, if you’ve listened to all of that 35+ year old music and yearn for more. The big twist is that lyrically it is much more political than romantic.
Album: Close It Quietly
Artist: Frankie Cosmos
Release Date: September 6, 2019
Favorite Tracks: “41st,” “So Blue,”
Thoughts: Greta Kline follows up on 2018’s Vessel with another collection of lo-fi folk rock tunes. Her sweet voice clearly sings ruminative lyrics about growing into adulthood.
Artist: Floating Points
Release Date: October 18, 2019
Thoughts: This collection of minimalist electronic music from UK musician Sam Shepherd was just what I needed to hear right now.
Album: There Existed an Addiction to Blood
Release Date: October 18, 2019
Favorite Tracks: “Nothing is Safe,” “The Show, and “Blood of the Fang”
Thoughts: This the third album from this experimental hip-hop act from Los Angeles, and first since 2016’s Splendor & Money. There are two great things about this album: 1. the rapid rhymes of Daveed Diggs (of Hamilton fame) and 2. the deep-textured synth sounds he raps over. The lyrics are grim and gory, making it an appropriate addition to your Halloween party playlist.
Album: In the Morse Code of Brake Lights
Artist: The New Pornographers
Release Date: September 27, 2019
Favorite Tracks: “You’ll Need A New Backseat Driver,” “The Surprise Knock,” and “Falling Down the Stairs of Your Smile”
I’ve been a longtime fan of The New Pornographers but finding my enthusiasm for the Canadian band dwindling over there past few releases. This new album has everything one would expect of the New Pornographers, the unique mix of power pop and folk rock, harmonies, virtuoso instrumentation, and clever titles. The first three songs on the album are good, but there are no standout gems like “Sing Me Spanish Techno,” “Challengers,” or “Crash Years.” The remainder of the album is just boring. I guess The New Pornographers and I have just drifted apart.
The Monthly Mixtape for May will take you on a journey!
Sarah Pagé :: Ephemeris Data
Kick it off with some experimental harp music.
The Silver Lake Chorus :: Tabu
Follow up with some tight choral harmonies and hot rhythms.
Black Pumas :: Colors
Then slide into some classic psychedelic soul.
Sass :: Spoiled by Rotten
Nex, some aural time travel to 1991.
Sleater-Kinney :: Hurry on Home
And while you’re in the 90s, pick up Sleater-Kinney and bring them to the present to work with St. Vincent!
Is there any great new music I missed along this journey? Let me know in the comments!
Album: The Best of Luck Club
Artist: Alex Lahey
Release Date: May 17, 2019
- I Don’t Get Invited to Parties Anymore
- Am I Doing It Right?
- Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself
Do you like 1980s power pop, but want to hear it from a young, contemporary artist? Australia’s Alex Lahey fits the bill on this album that just totally rocks. She even rips out a sax solo on “Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself.” A year ago this week, I reviewed an album by Lahey’s fellow Australian Courtney Barnett, which I completely loved, and I feel just as strongly for The Best of Luck Club. Lahey is maybe a bit less edgy musically than Barnett, but her lyrics are empowering and uplifting. And even on the ballads the pair of ballads that close out the album – “Black RMs” and “I Want to Live With You” – Lahey express the contended domesticity of a loving relationship while still being a rock & roller.
Album: Father of the Bride
Artist: Vampire Weekend
Release Date: May 3, 2019
- Hold You Now
- Harmony Hall
- We Belong Together
- Jerusalem, New York, Berlin
I’ve liked Vampire Weekend since I first heard “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” a dozen years ago. But I like them with the uneasiness of a white, preppy dude who grew up in the suburbs and likes the sounds of music of non-Western cultures listening to other white, preppy dudes who grew up in the suburbs incorporate those sounds into their pop music. We’re all probably guilty of some level of cultural appropriation.
The sound on Father of the Bride is more stripped down than preceding Vampire Weekend albums. It’s more of a folk rock sound with a little Laurel Canyon singer/songwriter. The lyrics also show the band in a different place, older and concerned with mortality and an uncertain present. “I don’t wanna live like this, but I don’t wanna die,” bandleader Ezra Koenig sings on “Harmony Hall.” Those are words capture the zeitgeist of the times, and yet are hidden in a sunny pop tune that typifies much of the album.