Last updated on November 3, 2020
1. “Pull Me Out, They Say, The Water Has Risen To The Base Of My Neck” – Protestant Work Ethic. The dour but humorously self-aware Protestant Work Ethic (album title: My Idea of Fun) offers a grimly-titled composition that uses violin, piano, and low strings (cello or perhaps even double bass) to create a complex, melancholy piece. The piano’s patterns are formal and rigid structurally, compared with the legato strings. The overall effect is jarring and puts the listener a little on edge, which, with a title like that, is what the track is supposed to do. It’s certainly a challenging and rewarding piece.
2. “INCENDIES” – TRUSTFALL. Pipe organ is a huge, massive, intimidating instrument, and the sounds it makes are just as such. TRUSTFALL manages to warp the brassy, punishing organ sounds with some highly processed vocals to produce a strange meshing of dissonance and melody. It’s weirdly comforting in its audaciousness.
3. “drugs in heaven?” – Tyler Berd. Berd’s speak-sung stream-of-consciousness protest work over spartan chords evokes equal parts Bob Dylan prophetic blast and Radiohead paranoid fragility. (The occasional spike of falsetto helps the Radiohead comparisons as well.)
4. “Chase” – Analog Players’ Society. Music doesn’t usually scare me, especially not things that are not overtly attempting horror. Analog Players’ Society has fully managed to scare me with “Chase,” which cultivates an aggressive, growling, ominous, encroaching-madness-and-doom sort of vibe in its jazz. The bass is pummeling. The horns are frantic. The piano and percussion slash and skitter all over the place. If you like being worried while listening to music, boy does APS have a song for you. Not recommended for people already dealing with anxiety, unless you need a soundtrack to facing your stuff head-on. Whoa noow.
5. “American” – Post Fear. This new moniker of Trey Powell (A Valley Son) is one of my favorite band names of the year. The song itself is a political elegy and warning: a bleary, dense, meandering dark indie-pop piece that encourages people to note that “haste is the deadliest of sins.” Powell’s voice is evocative and powerful, giving lift to this sea of sound. The overall effect a revelatory one, a la Bright Eyes’ “Road to Joy” but with less fury.
6. “Pra Ele” – Mariana Zwarg Sexteto Universal, Sá Reston. Vocal jazz has yet to deeply catch my attention, although Ellen Andrea Wang did crack open a door there. Mariana Zwarg, however, did catch my attention. Her exuberant, thrilling vocal runs and melodies create joyful work over a syncopated, herky-jerky piano-and-flute-driven Brazilian jazz effort. The composition is bursting with life, a positively life-affirming display of vocal and instrumental prowess. Highly recommended.
7. “Inévitable” – Sairen. This chugging, thunderous post-metal track is a lumbering, intimidating force. The mixing and mastering here are impeccable, as the engineering keeps the big sections and the quieter sections in perfect balance. Both the quiet and loud parts have strong energy. The EQing is also admirably done, foregrounding the low end but not thinning out the high end so much that the treble guitar work is weak. It’s a careful, impressive bit of engineering for an impressive piece of post-metal.
8. “Edgewood Ave.” – Byron the Aquarius. This nearly nine-minute jam is a great slice of funky, soulful jazz. The Wurlitzer-esque keys give this a throwback feel, like it could soundtrack a summery, urban ’70s scene in a movie. The rat-a-tat percussion keeps things going, and the rest of the band fills in pieces beautifully. It all works impressively. This band would be a ton of fun to see live.
9. “Take Us Asteroid” – Fixon. This is a techno banger the way I like ’em: bass hits like punches, moods straight out of a sci-fi movie, and a beat that’ll get you going on the dance floor. The almost mystical-sounding synth melodies delicately cascading and bouncing across the strict boom-boom-boom of the bass is a lovely, creative idea that elevates the track. Brilliant.
10. “I Can Cross the Sea” – The Welcome Wagon. We can always use more gentle folks song of solidarity, togetherness, and facing the unknown together. The Welcome Wagon’s latest effort in that direction is a beautiful, casual-sounding piece that is much deeper and richer lyrically than its sonics imply.