1. “Black Sorbet – Live in Krasnodar” – Closet Disco Queen. I don’t know where Closet Disco Queen has been hiding these last few years, but their mix of thrashy metal, thundering post-hardcore, and riffs (RIIIIIIIFFFFFS) has finally landed on my doorstep and I am thrilled. “Black Sorbet” is one long riffsplosion, a thoroughgoing tour-de-force on how to write guitar-drums rock music that absolutely, totally rips. The shout at 2:30 proves that the guitarist is as jazzed as I am over this magic. Highly recommended.
2. “California” – Knuckle Pups. Folk punk meets emo crossed with the Mountain Goats riding on a banjo with Bright Eyes/Clap Your Hands Say Yeah-style vocals. Also gang vocals. Also religious references. This is basically laser-targeted at my interests circa 2012, which means that it’s a nostalgia trip for a song I’ve never heard before. Knuckle Pups have a lot of promise, y’all. I don’t say “this is gonna be big” often, but I would be lying if I said anything other than “I think this is gonna be big.” Highly recommended.
3. “Bubble Under” – Anteloper. The skittering beats and thudding bass that into this track had me saying “ohhhhh yeahhhh” before we even got to the trumpet and pad synths that turn this track. The dense backdrop allows gossamer pads and fluctuating trumpet lines to float and frolic through the space. It’s an excellent track. Highly recommended.
4. “Pelota” – Khruangbin. My favorite Thai-influenced post-rock / dub / unclassifiable outfit returns with more fascinatingly uncompromising and difficult-to-explain music. This one has latin vibes running through it in addition to the trio’s spacious bass-lines, wiry melodies and percussion setup. Vocals appear in this one as well, pointing to new directions for the group.
5. “Easy” – Omar Addis. Funky, smooth, major-key indie-rock that evokes Tame Impala in the best ways. A lot of fun!
6. “Our Reflection Adorned by Newly Formed Stars” – Turning Jewels into Water. Feels like it should explode out into zinging chaos at any moment, but stays controlled, tightly coiled, a source of energy only being used at its partial capacity. The tension that they build with the knowledge that this could have gone from its current state as a percussion and staccato synths groove jam into a freakout is immense. Very cool track.
7. “Rock ‘n Rollin” – The Chef. As a huge fan of the Daft Punk Tron: Legacy soundtrack and its remixes, I am predisposed to big, stomping techno with distorted guitars, minor key punch, and vaguely-to-seriously ominous vibes. The Chef checks all those boxes here, wrapping in some nostalgically ’90s sounds for pleasingly good measure.
8. “Augusta Fairgrounds” – Matt Gold. A snappy-yet-thoughtful guitar-and-drums post-rock tune that’s long on mood and melody. This would be a perfect inclusion on an open-road vacation playlist.
9. “Rat King” – Patrick Phelan. The dour self-awareness of Bright Eyes meets slowcore aesthetics with some drama-enhancing synths laid on top of it. It’s an evocative mix.
10. “May” – standards. Man, I love standards. Their brand of math-rock fused with indie-pop melodicism is just right in my instrumental sweet spot. “May” is a bit more relaxed than their previous singles from the new record, as the tempo is dialed back (although the drums still manage to fill up all available space, endearingly) and the melodies are less insistent. Can math-rock be relaxing? I submit that it can.
11. “If I Had a Body (Live at Old Oak Studio)” – Samuel Alty. Alty’s angry on this song, as the lyrics clearly show; yet he restrains his vocals and fingerpicked guitar performance from the frenetic roar that he has shown he is capable of making. There’s more than a little Jose Gonzalez in this track, as a result–tension tightly constrained, making the moments where it breaks free even more appealing.
12. “Holding the Night’s Attention” – Identical Homes. This electronic track starts off hazy and ominous, then coalesces into a full-on menacing stomp. It never turns to rage, just a steadily oncoming danger. FFO the Daft Punk Tron soundtrack.
13. “November / The Bird in My Breast” – The Duke of Norfolk. Now this is a wildly inventive tune. The Duke of Norfolk takes the traditional hymn “Be Thou My Vision” and weaves the original lyrics into new ones in the original melody. This composes a song fearfully considering whether a lover will leave, with overtones of the same fear in a religious context. (The concluding choir of “Ae Fond Kiss” seals the deal with, yes, indeed, the lover will leave.) The music itself is a stripped-down, restrained version of all the things the Duke does best: electro-folk with major key burbles, distant reveries, and fully-developed atmosphere. (Disclaimer: I managed the Duke from 2009-2014.)
14. “Rest” – The Gray Havens. TGH has been kicking it with rappers and remixers a lot recently (see Propaganda’s feature on their last album and a recent trio of dance remixes), and it shows here: big, booming, reverb-heavy beats; speak-sung vocals; synths for atmosphere; a lot of percussion hit; and a striking lack of piano except for flourishes and outro. It’s a banger, tbh. From the Gray Havens. A banger, I say.