1 “First to the Feast” – Stagbriar. “First to the Feast” is the rare indie-rock song that makes an immediate deep impression on me. It’s a tumultuous, torrential, raw indie-rock jam about sobriety, mental health, committed relationships, and more. It’s like raw indie rock of Quiet Company but more so. Yet through it all, there remains a sense of refined polish that keeps it from collapsing in on itself. An impressive opener to their record Suppose You Grow. Highly Recommended.
2. “Erasmus” – Ellen Andrea Wang. I’m always going to feel an affinity with bassists, no matter what the genre. Wang is the composer and bassist here, creating impressive jazz/post-rock structures with a double-bass, drums, and electric guitar combo. It’s exactly the sort of exploratory, melodic, interlocking work that makes me so interested in both jazz and post-rock. There’s a ton going on here (you try to sort out all the different things happening at the five minute mark), and it all comes together into fascinating, exciting work.
3. “And Then There Was Fire” – The Suitcase Junket. Those familiar with Matt Lorenz’s live performances as The Suitcase Junket are familiar with the mind-bending complexities shaping each song. “And Then There Was Fire” off the November release The End is Now marks Lorenz’s entrance into the 2020 soundtrack. Producer and keyboardist Steve Berlin joined Lorenz (drums, vocals) on this richly textured piece. Masterful in producing sonic waves of tension, I’m happy holding my breath until the end is really now.
4. “Not in Our City (Tracy Shedd remix)” – honeybrandy. A big, thudding electronic backline, overlaid with Tracy Shedd dreamily cooing and a powerful speech from Dr. Keith R. Anderson about addressing police brutality. The line “Not in our city” becomes the hook, as the song grooves along. It’s a song of protest and joy, and as Hanif Abdurraqib notes, these can and often do go together.
5. “Western Ave” – Josh Johnson. Starts off as a Khruangbin jam, then floats into a sax-led jazz piece, then spins off into ever-more-unclassifiable ideas. Trying to define this seems kind of like cheapening it; the expansive, omnivorous approach is so wide as to push at the edges of any description. Very cool stuff.
6. “Wholeness and the Implicate Order” – The Last Dinosaur. A big, bombastic, ominous orchestral piece; it feels like a march and the overture to a very serious film. The woodwinds bring a lot of mystery to the piece, which is always fun.
7. “pingpxng” – YĪN YĪN. If you like thai beat tunes a la Khruangbin (as I very much do), then you may connect very quickly with this thoughtful-yet-dramatic instrumental jam (as I did). Lots of great thai vibes and solid performances all around. This one has a lot of Spaghetti Western in its blood, too.
8. “Axis” – Ross Harper. Harper has a background in ’90s techno, which explains why the flowing, watery ambient lead line has the least-ambient-possible backline of clicks, snaps, rattles, and bass hits. This makes it a rather exciting club-influenced ambient track or an incredibly dreamy techno cut, depending on your viewpoint. I like either viewpoint on it! Quite a bit, actually!
9. “Auras (single edit)” -Brendon Randall-Myers/Dither. Engaging, interesting multi-guitar work that consists of delicate, intricate, carefully planned patterns of staccato tones against a spartan sonic backdrop. This eerie, shadowy work draws heavily on the work of minimalists like Steve Reich and Terry Riley; fans of those composers will find much to love in this piece.
10. “Coac” – Qoniak. A synth/drums duo that is half dance-rock and half jammy synth melodies. The duo is tightly in-sync, with the drums and synths really meshing well. It’s a fun piece!
11. “We Came Through the Storm” – Jonathan Scales Fourchestra. This, my friends, is steel-drum-led fury jazz. This is a madcap mashup of things that don’t usually go together, and it works amazingly. I love steel drum and I have been getting into jazz, and the Fourchestra is (apparently) a thing I have been looking for without knowing it. This is adventurous music of the highest order–definitely check it out if you’re interested in unusual sonic experiments or Snarky Puppy-esque maximal jazz.
12. “Night Owl” – Dizzy Spells. Woozy, lightly-psychedelic alt-pop with a whole lot of whiplash moments; questions like “wait, is that an R&B harmony? is that a gospel choir? is that a toy piano?” abound. Makes me think back to when I first heard The Format; Dizzy Spells is a shooting star out of a field of people all trying to do the same thing, but somehow, not quite as well as Dizzy Spells. Lotsa fun here.
13. “The Earth is Flat” – Alexander Wren. This here is the rare “we are about to get divorced” song, usually the province of storytellers like John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats. The mature, easygoing folk backdrop is reminiscent of Gregory Alan Isakov’s careful work, and with lovely saxophones included for color. The lyrics are well-drawn but sad, as the topic of the song would suggest: “Honey, you love me / and yeah, the earth is flat.” Ouch. It’s a beautiful arrangement regardless.
14. “Tuesday Get” – Dovie Beams Love Child. A push-pull instrumental dream-pop track that features a martial, percussive stomp under a cascading piano melody. The pairing creates a warm, interesting tension between punchy electronica and loose melancholia.
15. “Sizwile” – SPAZA. I’m told that SPAZA is a South African Avant Garde/Jazz improvisational group, which is good, because I do not know what labels I would even begin to try to give to SPAZA. This is a 8.5-minute journey that travels through mystery, exuberance, lament, and more emotional states. The song is built from piano, vocals, and hand percussion, with brass loping in late to give some heft to the proceedings. It’s an amazing, impressive piece. It’s part of a soundtrack for a documentary film about the 1976 Soweto uprising, and whoa, that film is going to have a lot of weight if it inspired this music.