So here’s our last post of the year, other than the best-of-the-year posts. I haven’t done many singles reviews this year, so maybe my desire to put out this last post means next year will have more. Who can say? I can say that this is an incredibly varied post, going from rock to electronica to post-rock to ambient to tech-metal to freakout jazz and more. I’ve had a bit of weird year, I suppose, and it looks like next year will be equally weird, if my tastes continue this way. Here we go!
1. “Virginia Sapphire” – The Wilderness. This song is like taking the extremely honest delivery of the deeply-missed Scott Hutchison from Frightened Rabbit and marrying it with the Menzingers’ guitar attack. There’s also a sax solo. This is one of the best rock songs I’ve heard in a long time.
2. “Komorebi” – Sympala. Fans of ODESZA, turn out: this is excellent post-dub work that makes wub not sound aggressive. This has some serious headbobbing vibes and even some soul moments in the vocals and piano. Great beats, great arrangement, great stuff. I would put some bets on you hearing about Sympala more in the upcoming year.
3. “Umbilical” – 2an. Marimba and violin? Say no more. This electro/acoustic composition is liquid-smooth, packed with sonic depth, and totally satisfying. I look forward to a lot more 2an.
4. “Backlit” – Cosmos in Collision. Fans of Tycho and Ulrich Schnauss will find this electronic/post-rock work very moving. Lots of light surging in, lots of motion, lots of big finishes.
5. “The Rest Will Follow [The Freestyle Version]” – Tracy Shedd. Shedd, a singer-songwriter with a deep catalog, goes full electro-pop on this cut, emphasizing the 808 beats and analog synths that make this song what it is. It’s a lush, full, luxurious tune that makes the most of the arrangement and Shedd’s gentle vocals.
6. “Make Me Young, Make Me Young, Make Me Young, Make Me Young” – Anna Flyaway. This band preceded Empire! Empire! I Became a Lonely Estate, and their one album went unreleased. Now it’s getting released on Count Your Lucky Stars! Records (Welcome back, CYLS! Good to see you!) and it’s perfectly the right time: emo never dies but it’s certainly having a good moment right now. (Origami Angel and Cliffdiver are my current faves, but there’s a lot of “et al.” to go with that statement.) This is early ’00s emo par excellence–mathy influences but in a gentle guitar tone, yearning vocals, melodic arrangements (violin! piano!), and slow tempos. Get your American Football on, folks.
7. “Northern Lights” – Artificial Waves. Thrashy, riff-heavy instrumental post-metal blends with tense, groove-laden post-rock to create some heavy/light/heavy goodness.
8. “Burrowing Owl” – The Phantom Broadcast. Here’s seven minutes of slowly-building acoustic-folk that amps up into a post-rock roar with a space-rock outro. If that’s not enough to get you excited about this wild song, I’m not sure what else I can say to get you into this.
9. “Like, Literally” – Kylie Odetta. It’s almost winter, but it’s never too early to get hyped for summer. Odetta’s fun, funky, easy-going flow and beats here are just a blast of warm sunshine for many of us who need it in this weather. It’s a lovely little indie-pop/pop tune, like a bubble floating over a beach.
10. “Fear of Failure” – Sea Wolf. It’s hard to convince me with open-hearted, diary-entry singer-songwriter work anymore, but Sea Wolf’s precise lyricism and deeply engaging vocal delivery have me believing: “I have to be brave / even though I’m still afraid.” Rarely has depiction of stage fright been so relatable and moving. The well-developed indie-pop/indie-rock backdrop is great too; Sea Wolf has come a long way from acoustic folk.
11. “Limitless Benevolence” – Grant Huling. Huling continues his recovery of the formerly-unknown hymns of Haden Laas, a young man who died in World War I and left behind a stack of hymns. Huling found them at an estate sale and has been bringing them back to life. This one is a real funky jam with multiple moods, led by go-go-go piano, wurlitzer, and a skronky guitar solo. It’s like Sufjan at his most kitchen-sink-indie-pop heights.
12. “Holdin’ On” – Ryan Herrick. Herrick’s voice is clear and strong, delivering a soaring vocal performance of this country/folk tune. Fans of organ in country music will celebrate the appearance and continued use of the organ throughout–it provides a lot of class and vibe to this track. Special shout-out to the bass licks, and to the engineer who made them high up in the mix. You can check out a video for the title track off Herrick’s new EP, Heal Your Bones, here.
13. “Permafrost” – Monochromie. Do you need to slow down? I need to slow down. Here: take twelve minutes and drift away on delicate, ethereal, wistful ambient music. I know it helped me calm down.
14. “Sweet Nothings” – Bomethius. A multi-tracked self-a capella that falls between aching and nostalgic, this track is a unique opening to a record and also the title track of the record. A bold opening statement, for sure.
15. “Marshall Law” – Westwego. The undying spirit of major-key troubadour folk just passes from one band to another, sometimes resting on multiple people at once, never letting the people’s song die. Westwego has some of that spirit with them, and this song is basically everything you could possibly want in a folk song: great melodies, great lyrics, beautiful quartet arrangement. It’s folk for the folkster purist and the folkster questioning. It’s just great.
16. “Pursuit” – Xander Naylor. Next year is already looking weird on the genre front: I’m feeling myself pulled back toward punk (see the first track on this list) and I’m starting to understand the appeal of freakout jazz, like this track right here. This is a jazz combo going on a chaotic blitz, stopping only occasionally to let the listener breathe. I don’t have a lot of good RIYLs for this because I don’t actually listen to freakout jazz like this (yet, I suppose), but I must say I think is great, and I expect to listen to more of it in 2020 from Naylor.
17. “Kinetic Disturbances” – Matheus Manente. Also I might be getting into tech-metal. I don’t know what’s happening to this blog, honestly. But if you’re into stuff like Polyphia, then this here track may be of interest to you. The front end is a bunch of highly technical single-note stuff that I’m still working on getting fully into as a genre, but the rest of the piece gets the band locked in to thundering grooves and riffs, and it’s very much up my alley. So, here’s to 2020, y’all. Let’s get weird.