Wednesday, December 23, 2020

The Best Of 2020


Hey, remember the scene in The Karate Kid when Daniel Larusso bumbles his way into the 1984 All Valley Karate Tournament? He's lost, he's scared, and he has no idea what to do next? Yeah, do you? Well, that's us in the year 2020. In the United States, our sensai (the electorate) made a really bad deal with an evil man (electing Donald Trump), which led us to this life or death karate tournament of a year.

Ok, so then do you remember that Daniel steps into his first match of the tournament, takes a few hits, gets chased off the mat, but ultimately...he calms down, we focuses, and he wins. He wins that match by listening to Mr. Miyagi when he says, "remember, you defense, points come, concentrate, focus power, remember balance make good fight". He listened to the experts. And the best part? We get to then hear the blazingly inspirational Joe Esposito ripper, "You're The Best" while we watch our hero Daniel systematically dismantle all opponents and advance through the early stages of the tournament in quite possibly the greatest movie montage of all time. It's a spectacular three minutes of cinema, honestly.

Well, here we are at the party end of a shittiest of years, and in taking stock of our situation, I am optimistic. Winning that first fight of the tournament, that was electing Joe Biden as President. Having a Coronavirus vaccine rolling out across the world, that was listening to Mr. Miyagi, the expert. And, if I'm being honest...I can't remember what happens that the end of Karate Kid...I generally fall asleep after orgasm, and that "You're The Best" sequence gets me at full staff every time. So, who knows if Daniel wins the tournament, or if he's stabbed by a fan, or if he gets his larynx punched out the back of his neck, or if he gets exposed as a fake black belt and disqualified...there's just no way to tell. But, I'm optimistic that society IS Daniel Larusso, and we WILL somehow fumble our way through this tournament of life to come through victorious in 2021. Or....maybe we too are exposed as karate frauds and laughed all the way back to our economy apartment in Reseda...but I hope not.

Either way, this list of bands right here, these and all the other great music we posted on our previous lists, this is your Joe Esposito soundtrack. This is what gets you through the bullshit and keeps you focusing your power. "...make good fight"!

30. Mummise Guns - Mummise Guns

Taking some of the heavier hitters of recently released fucked up English-based music (Dethscalator, Part Chimp, Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, Terminal Cheesecake, Ikara Colt, Luminous Bodies, Casual Nun, Black Shape, Ghold, and others) Mummise Guns came together in 2017 to record this lurching, ugly, malleating hulk of a six song album. Only for it to be shelved whilst their day jobs took away their attentions.

29. Chief Tail - Chief Tail

Very much in the Jesus Lizard school of noise rock (not an accredited university) with a minor in hardcore theory, alongside graduates Pissed Jeans, right down to being recorded by Steve Albini at Electrical Audio. You know what you’re getting, right? Then get it. It's great.

28. Trainer - Athletic Statics

A tightly coiled cluster of songs that defend themselves by striking quickly and aggressively at their attacker's face. They have made their nest in a den of classic Touch and Go styled noise rock warmth, but they spruced up the place with the comforts of a modern home. Loud, focused, and cantankerous. Approach with caution, and keep your hands away from their mouths.

27. Mammrock - Itch

I can safely say this is my favorite greek noise rock band of the year, as this is the only Greek noise rock band I think I’ve heard in…well over a year? 

26. Mathis Hunter - Mood Lighting

Mathis Hunter wrote some of my favorite hardcore songs back in the middle 1990's, and then he wrote some of my favorite psych-rock jams at the turn of the century, and now he's got a few albums worth of my favorite...I don't know...rock songs? Mood Lighting continues to develop his penchant for taking Hacienda-era Brit Pop grooves and injecting them with some hazy, warped Americana dust, and some 70's stoned rock residue. Bueno.

25. J McNeight - Pinched Nerve

It's fucking rad when you're friends are creative, and talented, and they do things that are pure to their own artistic vision. Well, this is my friend, and he's finally gotten around to releasing a full album of the songs he's been honing over the last few years, and it turned out goddamn beautiful. I suppose I'm biased because I've been fortunate enough to see these songs gestate over time, but I also know I'm right about them (cause I'm always right). Spare, delicate, vunerable, and memorable. Just a dude and his guitar and a pursuit of "song". Stop being such a mook all the time and get in touch with your feelings and whatnot.

24. Moon Pussy - Moon Pussy

Well, chalk this one up as “another band who’s t-shirt I cannot wear in my parent’s presence”. Pretty sure I shouldn’t even be listening to this within a city block of their house! Super dirty, gnarled barrage of bad vibes. You will never find any lyrics from this record painted in fancy script on a piece of driftwood hanging in your mother’s kitchen. That I can assure you. Unless your mom is a total fucking dirtbag, which, it should go without saying but, you shouldn’t be eating anything coming out of that kitchen. Seems unsanitary at best.

23. Bruges - A Thread Of Light

Once, at a party (yes, I DO occasionally get asked to attend mixed social gatherings), a middle aged man (as am I) started our conversation with the question, “are you a grower, or a shower?” in an attempt to be funny(?), or shocking, or something. My response was, “are you asking me how long my dick is?”, and from that moment on I have hated that man (proud to say I still do!) for being a crass and unfunny try-hard. But, that nonsequitor was merely a set up to point out that this album is a “grower” (no judgment on the size or quality of the band’s bulges). Bruges like to take their time and let their songs unfold with a droning, sustained pound (or occasionally a hypnotic lull). The kind of malestrom that somehow you can get lost inside of. Maybe like Swans did, but not as percussive, or industrial. It’s heavy, but a slow burn kind of heavy. The kind of album that would definitely not inquire about the status if your bikini area in mixed company.

22. Xibalba - Anos De Infierno

Sometimes you just want a pummeling. And not in some BDSM type way (although, hey, whatever floats your boat…no judgement here), but just in a big, warm, rumbling, blanket of mangled chunks of riffs kind of way. Smothered in a doomy death metal beat down that I can only assume is celebrating the dark Mayan mythologies of the underworld. I can barely speak English, let alone Spanish as gurgled by Xibalba, so who really knows. I just know that a thunderous assailment such as this, is just what I want on certain days. Maybe I am into BDSM? 

21. Thousandaire - Thousandaire

Andrew Wiggins of Hawks, Wymyns Prysyn, and a hundred other Atlanta bands, has returned with a new(ish) project. This time employing the proverbial power trio to dish out downcast, brawny, indie rock that could be mistaken for an overdriven, sludgy Silkworm. Maybe if you were familiar with the band Glands, you can imagine them, but with extra amplifier stacks pushing some fuzzed out versions of their self-aware pessimism. It's big and loud, but not engineered for good times, or any sort of "getting the party started" type things necessarily, but it will sound great in a car, blasted, getting the fuck out of town.

20. Hum - Inlet

Ummmm, did anyone know this was coming out? Cause I didn’t. And I certainly did not think that 22 after their last album, Hum was going to come out of the blue and pick up where they left off like nothing…but here we are. In the year of our Lord 2020, Hum has broken hibernation to resurrect their muscular take on shoegaze space rock. Well, maybe not EXACTLY where they left off, but pretty close. The ratio of “pretty” to ”chugging heaviness” is higher than on past releases, and the dynamics certainly don’t wallop you over the head like on ‘You’d Prefer An Astronaut’, but when the big, blanketing guitars do come in, it still feels really good. Familiar and warming.

If we're being honest, one cannot exist on guitar-based music alone (be it noise rock, singer songwriter, death metal, or whatever in between), and for this one (me), hip hop has been a good 30% or so of my musical diet since the days of BET's Rap City (the OG version with mayor Donnie Simpson). So, to no one's surprise, my rap consumption is heavily weighted to the Golden Age of circa 1986-1995, give or take. Look, I have a 17 year old (currently) son who listened predominantly to hip hop, and as any good parent does, I try to "get down with the kids" and show an appreciation for whatever he's into. But what he's into, I'm out of. I just can't do the Travis Scott and Lil Yachty's of the world, it's noise to me. The mumbling, pop rap just doesn't speak to the older, refined listener, like myself (the kind with Anal Cunt records on his shelf). I am finally now in my father's shoes as I tried to explain to him that Circle Jerks were a legitimate band making important music! I do try though. Honest. I do try to find new artists making the kinds of sounds that appeal to someone who honestly thinks there will never be an MC to surpass Rakim. But, here's the Top (Lucky) Seven of what I heard this year that I listened to while taking power walks through the neighborhood.

7. Public Enemy - What You Gonna Do When The Grid Goes Down?
PE return to Def Jam, and return to their agitated boombastic sound. The remix of 'Fight The Power' alone is worth the price of admission, proving if anything, that we should have considered adopting the original version as our National Anthem all those many years ago. 

6. Jorun Bombay & Phill Most Chill - Jorun PMC
Scratchy samples, boom bap beats, and an authoritative vocal's got everything you want, no filler, no dumb skits. Video provided from a previous release, there is apparently no video evidence of the new album. 

5. Action Bronson - Only For Dolphins
Yes, I know. I understand the baggage, but I also understand the head nodding appeal. What do you want me to do?!

4. Jahi & Configa - Forward Future
Grown folk flow, seasoned beats, throwback glory. 

3. Marlowe - Marlowe 2
Dusty, cracked jazz samples that create a buzzing, banging, breakbeat backdrop for Solemn Brigham's relaxed rapid fire delivery. 

2. Cut Beetlez - What Beetlez?
Full on Golden Age Of Hip Hop throwback. Turntablism, gritty samples, gritty rhymes, lots of rap classic chestnuts thrown in. Boom bap all day.

1. Run The Jewels - 4
Easily the record I listened to the most this year, but what choice was I given? El-P's beats are heavy as fuck, the lyrical interplay between him and Killer Mike is top tier, shit is un-fuckable-with. 

*ok, back to the countdown*

19. The Avett Brothers - The Gleam III

Yeah, I know, this band has crossed over to a bigger, more khaki-clad audience, and their music has unfortunately gone as milquetoast as their fanbase. I get it. I haven’t paid attention to them since 2004’s ‘Mignonette’ album, but have been happy to see their success, as they rightfully have earned it. 
In 2003 I was getting tattooed by a guy named Watson Atkinson (now a flat Earther and sexual abuser…not cool), and he was super hyped on The Avett Brothers. He played their music during our sessions, and made me a CD compilation of the first two albums (with cover drawn by Seth Avett himself…cool). Shortly thereafter, The Avett Brothers played the opening party for Watson’s new tattoo shop, and I got to see them in all their raging, stomping, folk-punk glory in a small club. They took those tender songs from the records and breathed fire into them. Truly incredible. 
Fast forward to now, and all these many years later they have (temporarily?) jettisoned the full band, the Rick Rubin production, and the pop music sensibilities in favor of a return to the stripped down, acoustic simplicity and raw honesty of those first records. And as then, it is now incredible.  

18. Narrow Head - 12th House Rock

I would 100% believe you if you said this record was written, performed, and recorded in 1994 by a group of guys who used to be in old NYHC bands, but the label fell through and the album was shelved for 26 years. This is post hardcore as informed by Quicksand, Hum, Smashing Pumpkins, and Slowdive; one part shoegaze, one part grunge, one part…well…hardcore. This is a band that I would have assumed to be touring with the aforementioned Quicksand, Shift, Handsome, maybe Orange 9mm. Bands that came out of the hardcore world, but had tuned their guitars to “bigger things”. Now I would see them opening for Deftones or something. 
But this band is from Houston, Texas circa right now. And their big dynamics via skuzz approach is not some Civil War reenactment 90’s dress up, it’s the real deal. Narrow Head pack their influences (intentional or not) into a clenched fist and punch a hole through the drywall. If you’re my age, you will find the nostalgia of it all scratching a specific itch. If you’re younger than me, you will probably just think it’s exciting guitar rock. If you’re older than me…you are most likely dead by now.

17. Tenure - Sink

File this one under; “from out of the blue”. As far as I can tell, this album is the only thing Tenure has released, and the first real band the three members have been in. And I’m going out on a limb, but I’ll guess this record is the best music to come out of Whitesburg, Kentucky in…forever. 
I want to say that they have a post punk vibe, run through the sieve of country music, but ultimately I just think it sounds like Dax Riggs with a bit of the more recent Queens Of The Stone Age sound thrown in, maybe a hint of My Morning Jacket’s ebullience. It’s fantastic. The musicianship is deft and creative, the songs are memorable and compact, and the vocals give it a haunted presence. There’s some southern gothic haze over everything that is Tenure’s stamp. This is the kind of band you love to stumble upon. The kind of band that you’re excited to hear from again.

16. Blacklisters - Fantastic Man

Impenetrable dissonance levied against you for maximum castigation. Or maybe it just has to be, and with or without whatever it is I think, or you think, we are hearing exactly how they think. Squinting into the sun and slowly shaking their heads at the inefficacy of contemporary cultures' ability to process or reign in this free-fall into our own narcissism. Creating a harsh visage, an edifice of alien malformation, is the only defense. The only response to the increasing demands for documentation and self-importance.  

15. Wailin' Storms - Rattle

Three albums in, and Wailin’ Storms has perfected their swamp boogie death rock stomp. Taking pieces and parts from The Cramps, Gun Club, Christian Death, and Bauhaus, they Dr. Frankenstein together a new monster that roams the night. Animated to life by a lightening bolt of rock-n-roll grit, they manage to create something exciting and forward looking while paying homage to the jet black hair of their forebears.

14. Bully - SUGAREGG

I’m forever a sucker for this kind of shouty, frenetic-but-vulnerable, blistering guitar rock. It may not reinvent the proverbial wheel, but, to quote another cliche, if it ain’t broke it’s worth two in the bush…I think. Something. Big hooks and a frayed punk sensibility take these songs of personal struggle (bipolar disorder if I’m not mistaken) and drill them deep into your ears. It has a lot of the hallmarks of early 90’s indie rock, but it’s not a nostalgia trip, it’s simply a continuation of rock-n-roll to get her (this album was a solo endeavor of Alicia Bognanno) point across. And she does it in a most compelling way. If you were smitten last year, as I was, by the last Mannequin Pussy album, then this one could get you to renew your vows.

13. Canyons - Stay Buried

I don’t know how old the members of this band are, but I would guess they were born in the very late 1990’s. Too young to understand in real time how the Hydra Head and Escape Artist rosters had thoroughly annihilated hardcore by shooting it up with metal, crust, and noise rock. Which of course was a full circle moment, since hardcore birthed noise rock and crust, and metal would have possibly never evolved off of the Sunset Strip without it (or the biker bar). There is a through line from Today Is The Day to Deadguy to the urgency and tumult of bands like Burn It Down, Coalesce (like Canyons, from Kansas City), and Jesuit, on to current bands like Bummer and Nerver (both of whom have shared members with Canyons), who approach their songs with a full throated roar. The run time on this record staying under 20 minutes means that the songs never overstay their welcome. They kick in the front door, help themselves to a cold Coors Light (without asking…naturally), make a joke about your mother, and then proceed out the back door to vomit in your rose bush all in a manageable two minutes (give or take). If they weren’t so goddamn rude, it would be downright considerate.

12. Human Impact - Human Impact + eps

Who doesn’t like a supergroup? Especially one made up of Unsane, Cop Shoot Cop, and Swans personnel? Pretty legit pedigree, I’d say. But you knew that already (about the pedigree, not what I would say [unless you have the gift of clairvoyance]). And you probably already knew that this band sounds 80% like Cop Shoot Cop, 15% like Unsane, and maybe 5% like Swans (if even). Which, I’m fine with. I may not have been fine with it upon first listen, because I was hoping for more of Chris Spencer’s bludgeoning riffage, if I’m being honest (the best policy), but upon further listens I’ve settled into really enjoying this record for what it is. Which is all I can do. It’s just a record after all.
Sidebar: they have three additional eps out this year, which contain some of the more “heavy” tracks so far. 

11. Black Helium - The Wholly Other

What would happen if you took a Part Chimp album and a Black Angels album, and you cut each in half, then tapped them together? I’ll tell you; you would have ruined two perfectly good albums, and you would be left with a really stupid, unplayable experiment. Are you fucking stupid or something? You can’t tape an album together! It would never work!
Black Helium on the other hand, did manage to figure out how to successfully merge the sludge lunacy of Part Chimp with the psych drone of Black Angels to cobble together this wholly intriguing and highly listenable collection that errs mostly on the side of “big, expansive, heavy workouts”, but does offer contrast with some “gentle, shimmering, inner journeys”. If you like to party with a band like Hey Colossus, then this one will keep the festivities spirited.

Is it uncouth to be 46 years old and still listening to a steady diet of hardcore? Or has it now been long enough that it somehow has circled back around to somehow being "cool"? I'm assuming uncouth, but I'm hoooooooping...
Regardless of your opinion of me, here's a sampling of some of the best hardcore I stumbled across this year.

Constant Elevation - Freedom Beach
It's goddamn Sammy Seigler, so you can fuck right off. 

Gag - Still Laughing
Abrasive, going-for-the-throat style attack, with shades of 80's Japanese bands, a bit of English D-Beat skuzz, and just general bad attitudes.

Big Cheese - Punishment Park
Straight ahead hardcore flurry that thrashes and chugs and makes you want to punch holes in the wall with a Killing Time kind of nudge. Do you see anything wrong with that? 

Total Meltdown - Total Meltdown
NYHC circa now that has lots of the NYHC circa 1991 DNA in it's sound. Heavy and gruff, but with some groove keeping it moving ahead in an interesting direction.

Soul Glo - Songs To Yeet At The Sun
Fucking gnarly, pissed and wild. This band does what the best hardcore bands do; they get you moving, they get you thinking, and they get you fucking going!

Drain - California Cursed
With a nod to Slayer, this album launches into a brutal collection of head knockers that I imagine "get the pit started" with extreme prejudice. Hints of Cro-Mags metallic hardcore, but with a modern jolt of energy. 

Rash - Hivemind
Nonstop assault that drops the hammer and keeps it down by way of a crusty, dark, speed bludgeoning. The kind that you could have very well discovered perusing a Profane Existence distro sheet circa 1993.

Year Of The Knife - Internal Incarceration
Fucking violent, the sound of being swarmed to death. Heavy duty beatdown minus the meathead bullshit.

BIB - Delux
Psychotic in the way Negative Approach were crazy. Nasty, mean shit.

Classics Of Love - World Of Burning Hate
Legit throwback to the sound and fury of a 1987 Gilman Street show. Maybe because these dudes were there, playing those shows? Sounds as vital and urgent as ever.

Bitter Branches - This May Hurt A Bit
As has been said a million times before in this space; if Tim Singer is involved, I'm buying it sight unseen. This one was especially welcome, as it brings some of the whirling chaos you want into shape with an undercurrent of something approximating melody, and then topped with that familiar roar. This record goddamn smokes.

*alright, let's get back to the list*

10. USA Nails - Character Stop

USA Nails have matched the tension and turbulence of 2020 by providing the soundtrack of our new borderline dystopian existence with this collection of terse, trenchant odes to global pandemic and the failures of our collective capitalist construct. Granted, these songs aren’t written about the specific particulars of the year 2020, but the uneasy agitation by which they are delivered most certainly echoes the prevail sentiment that this year can 100% eat shit.

9. ILS - Curse

The textbook definition of "burliness". Straight up mountain man, axe-swingin', drop-out-of-civilized-society type shit. This is the kind of band that murders their immediate family and burns their bloated corpses in an oil drum fire out back because they were "getting in the way of the mission". You have to respect that level of commitment to craft.

8. Heads. - Push

You like noise rock, but do you fuck with noir rock (patent pending)? You know, the dark, brooding, menacing sounds of a band like Heads.? Taking cues from the more ominous post-punk, proto-industrial, and death rock bands of the early 80s, and reanimating their corpses with pulsating brightness (must be a black light) that gives relief to the monochromatic fog that this style takes on in the hands of a lesser practitioner, Heads. create an album that sounds like a warning. Stay out of the shadows. Stay off the streets after dark. Keep your mouth shut.
Pro tip: if you’re going to attempt noir rock (patent pending), having a vocalist with an Australian accent really seals the deal.

7. Uniform - Shame

This band has steadily been putting out high quality records for the last few years, to which we (me) owe them a collective (singular) “thank you”. They continue to hone (sharpen) a borderline industrial, or at the very least a martial, approach to single-minded “fuck you” tunes. Nothing nice, nothing warm, just an angry letter left at your office desk to explain all the myriad ways you have failed, and why you should be shamed from now until ever. No signature, just a memorandum of your weaknesses, made exponentially worse when you realize the same letter has been photocopied and distributed to the desk of every single one of your coworkers, and left under the windshield wiper of every car in the parking lot downstairs. 

6. Belk - Belk + Umpire eps

Only two eps (7 songs) available at this point, but yikes, those seven songs are coming correct! And there’s only two dudes making all this racket? And they DON’T sound like every other two man jam? Extra points. This duo makes a strangulated version of noise rock that does both; it’s noisy and it rocks. Isn’t that why we’re here? 

5. Jeff Tweedy - Love Is The King

This guy just keeps the heat coming with these solo records one after another. And as long as he’s willing to put them out, I will listen unapologetically. Between Jeff Tweedy, Eric Bachmann, and Jeremy Enigk, it’s been an embarrassment of riches in the “sad bastard” musical category of late. Although, to be fair, this album is not “sad”, it’s just mellow, and mellow is fine by this fellow. Don’t be scared though, I think Jeff Tweedy’s time with Jim O’Rourke and Nels Cline has paid off with some strange chord progressions and discordant diversions to keep these songs from being total “dad rock” (that being said, your dad would probably enjoy this…stocking stuffer idea!).  

4. Exhalants - Atonement

Slint begat Engine Kid and Engine Kid begat Exhalants’ new album. Or, at least a good chunk of it. Exhalants are also drawing influence from the bedrock Midwestern noise rock of the late 80’s, but I hear a lot of those big guitar moves that Engine Kid amplified Slint’s dynamism with. Their last full length had a more forthright melody in the songs, and this one eschews the niceties for a more ferocious approach. I mean, I’m sure there’s someone out there that finds these songs “pretty”…but that someone is a serial killer.

3. Pyrrhon - Abscess Time

Those who know me best (your mom) know that my death metal record collection is small (much like my genitals). But, when a band comes around that takes death metal to a place this unhinged, this punishing, and this fucked up…I’m in (your mom [sorry])! 

2. Leeched - To Dull The Blades Of Your Abuse

My snow skiing career was limited to a few seasons in western NC in middle and high school, sliding down the icy “slopes” of Sugar, Beech, and Appalachian Mountains, trying my hardest to stem christy, but mostly just snow plowing. So, I’ve never been caught in an avalanche. Fortunately. But I imagine this record captures that feeling pretty accurately. Completely overwhelming. A dense, heavy, merciless bombardment of overdriven, downtuned animosity. Elements of noise, grind core, death metal, hardcore, and personal grievances. Imagine Iron Monkey, but without the sense of humor. I know I’m prone to hyperbole, but I’m telling you, the bass actually sounds like a series of distant explosions on this record.

1. Easy Prey - Relentless Struggle

For full tilt, foot through the floorboard, flailing, noisy hardcore, this one is top of the heap. Hell, it's just top of the heap period. It’s a bellowing roar across the intolerable mundane cruelty of this year. The sound of remorseless decimation. A ruinous hymn that revels in its ravaging calamity. Nuance is a dead end. Fuck yo couch.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Special Bonus Best Of 2020 - from our pal Ipecac

Our mutual friend Ipecac (not his Christian name) has not previously provided an end of year list (that I can think of), but this year he decided to give it the 'ol college try (technical college) and provide this assortment of musical selections for you. And I. Us.
He did not furnish any explanation, any further thoughts, or even any ranking. Simply an inventory in (semi) alphabetical order of his most treasured musical output. I have agreed not to make fun of his selections or further editorialize in any way, shape, or form. 
So, please enjoy Ipecac's Best of 2020

CHAT PILE - Remove Your Skin Please

CHAT PILE - This Dungeon Earth

CORIKY - Coriky


GULCH - Impenetrable Mental Fortress

HUM - Inlet


EXHALANTS - Atonement

EYE FLYS - Tub Of Lard

GRIZZLOR - Comped Into Obscurity

MACABRE - Carnival of Killers

METZ - Atlas Vending

NOTHING - The Great Dismal

NAPALM DEATH - Throes Of Joy In The Jaws Of Defeatism

GREG PUCIATO - Child Soldier: Creator Of God

RASPBERRY BULBS - Before The Age Of Mirrors

REALIZE - Machine Violence

SHE LUV IT - She Luv It

THOU - Blessings Of The Highest Order

THOU - A Primer Of Holy Words

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The (Almost) Best Of 2020

Hoping against hope to create some sort of cultural footprint legacy (sorry kids, there's no will) as a way to justify my own fragile ego, I continue to import relevance to my postulations on other's artistic endeavors. Sad but true. In an era where "blogging" has lost its foothold as a reliable source of information exchange (as evidenced by the statistics of this very blog which have been on the decline since 2010 or so), it becomes increasingly piteous that one (me one) would continue to flagellate not only you (two?) the reader, but myself (oneself?) with these end-of-year lists. But here I go again (...on my own, goin' down the only road I've ever known. Like a drifter I was born to walk alone...), so let's go. Let's try and forget my own biases and instead focus on the people who went out on a limb this year to create something new, something exciting, something inspiring, something for you and I to take the pain away. At least between Presidential tweets, pandemics, racial injustices, democratic undermining, and general discouragement with humanity. Let's raise a glass to those who went for it, we salute you bands, labels, store owners, distributors, pressing plants, club owners (hope to see you soon!), and we (me, one) say thank you.

As has become customary here, where you are, there are too many wonderful records being released every year to be contained in one measly list. And since opinion is a fungible concept, who can even say "that was the best", and be certain that actually was the "best" the next day? The next hour? So, as is also custom, I offer this disclaimer that all the records highlighted on this. and subsequent lists are goddamn incredible, and they are all "the best". If you agree (and c'mon...don't you sorta?) please use the handy DL link under each to go and purchase the music you love. 

As is ALSO customary here, I feel obligated to atone for my sins of the past year, notably acknowledging records that came and the year prior, and that WOULD have been on that year's Best Of list, but since I am a considerable curmudgeon that takes a perverted pride in living in the past, I miss out on a handful of the best new music every year as punishment. 

Chat Pile - This Dungeon Earth + Remove Your Skin Please

Man, I fucked up with this one. How on earth I missed these records last year is a real window into my irrelevancy, cause, holy shit, once I heard them I wore them the fuck out. Like, I feel confident I listened to these two eps more than anything else this year. The music is a perfectly formed reflection of our reptilian brains, damaged as they are. Hulking, ominous, and unhinged, this band is a goddamn revelation. One would assume you folks are more "with it" than I and already availed yourselves to Chat Pile, but in the off chance you haven' gotta. It's required.

Heartscape Landbreak - The Remedy

Taylor Holenbeck, once of Appleseed Cast, Des Arks, and Hospital Ships, is essentially "the band" Heartscape Landbreak. Although he recruits friends to help flesh out his ideas, you can tell the songs are coming from a singular voice. A voice I was not familiar with until early this year. And while it is of note that Heartscape Landbreak released an album this calendar year, that album is more of a sketchbook of ruminations on the winds and the prairies on which Holenbeck was raised. An instrumental collection that is a beautiful assemblage, but something altogether separate from the full band version that delivered 'The Remedy' in 2019. 'The Remedy' is a plaintive survey of transcendent indie rock, exploring the expansive, storm threatened, horizon of the album's cover. The songs are truly beautiful in their contorted melancholy and exuberant replies. Spare passages of contemplative delicacy give way to a rush of enthusiastic push-and-pull to harken back to an indie rock past of Archers Of Loaf, Pavement, Come, and Built To Spill, but the unique sonics of Holenbeck's vocal and guitar tones fill this album with new life. It's truly wonderful...which I know sounds like I've been watching too much of The Hallmark Channel, but I'm telling you, it's a fucking wonderful album. 

Alright...with that taken care of, we can focus on the now. Or at least, the more recent past. 
Please allow me to introduce the 60th through 31st favorite records of the year 2020. 

60. Sloath - III

It is my understanding, based the information relayed to me, from sources that I have determined to be trustworthy, based on previous interaction, that this record has been gesticulating for some years now, and was only recently deemed appropriate to release. Still counts as a 2020 release though, so fuck off. Musically this is a psych-doom trip that starts heavy and maintains a hypnotic grip over stash of warped Sabbath riffs. Stays heavy while obscuring those riffs. And ends heavy in some Echoplex nightmare induced haze.

59. Idles - Ultra Mono

Boy, do people love to shit on this band. Cause why? Cause they can fill a room now? Cause your uncool workmate has one of their songs on their workout playlist? I don't know, but that seems dumb. But I would say that with this band a little goes a long way. Listening to any random three songs off any of their albums is an invorating jolt. Listening to four or five and it kinda wears a bit thin. The songs are solid though, and the band is making some coin doing what they want to do, so good for them. And us. And your goofy ass coworker.

58. 16 - Dream Squasher

Good ‘ole reliable 16, bringing forth another jackhammer of misanthropic Helmet-on-halfspeed bad vibes thet never fail to…wait…what is with the song “Sadlands”? Why are there clean vocals and anthems choruses? Who has been monkey-ing around with my 16 album?! OK, that one weird misstep aside, chalk up another downer triumph for the lovable bastards.

57. No Age - Goons Be Gone

I suppose it’s been a few years since the last time No Age grabbed my attention with their sprawling, anti-rock rock music. This new one has ebbs and flows from barely structured noise to their distinctive fractured pop styles. I really hate the word “slacker”, but for No Age it’s a fitting  descriptor of their approach. Pavement on depressants. 

56. Hammer Party - Smashed Hits

Truth in advertising; call your band The Hammer Party, and then commence to attacking your listeners with a mallet of blunt force noise rock. Trauma ensues. Nobody was lying. You honestly had me at "ex-Glazed Baby".

55. New Primals - Horse Girl Energy

Jittery, spikey, far flung noise that careens from post punk punch to metallic noise rock scree. I hear others describe this record as having dance elements, but you would have to be a really really good dancer (which I am) to make that work. So, don’t sweat that part.

54. Hey Colossus - Dances / Curses

Taking up the mantle for bands like Can, Hey Colossus have transitioned away from earlier records that featured massive washes of hypnotic guitar riffs, and are now developing a more motorik approach that pulsates with mesmerizing songs that slowly unfurl like the fiddleheads of a waking fern. Still erring on the side of "heavy", but with a sunnier disposition than before.

53. Black Magnet - Hallucination Scene

Take some “Downward Spiral” era Nine Inch Nails, mix with some of the pulsating drub of 1000 Homo DJs, add in some “Too dark Park” era Skinny Puppy, fold in some Godflesh mechanized grind, and flavor with some of Fudge Tunnel’s churning stomp. There you go. Easy.

52. This Is Wreckage - I Don't Live, I Exist

From the finest forges of....Wales? Fist through the wall type goings on. Music to the ears of those with self-induced hearing loss. Brawny shit.

51. Heavy Harvest - Iron Lung

Big and menacing and roaring and immense and imposing and unrelenting. It’s a noise rock record  that occasionally looks over its shoulder to it’s fuzzy stoner rock past. 

50. Mamaleek - Come & See

The materials surrounding this band describe them as “black metal”, which I find to be a misnomer. I certainly would not ever fancy myself a “black metal fan” (I’m from the Caucus Mountain region), I have been adjacent enough with the genre to have a working knowledge of the archetype, and this Mamleek album does not seem to conform to any of the classifications of the style. It’s a much more hoarse and voluminous collection of songs that reach for the far horizon line beyond the brutalist concrete towers of their urban homes. I don’t reckon this fellas as big Norwegian backwoods enthusiast

49. Pig Destroyer - The Octagonal Stairway

The first three of the six tracks on this record are a diamond tipped buzzsaw of ripping, super heavy, grindcore. The type of songs this band made their name on. The second half of the record is no less structured, but structured much differently than the first. Raging riffage gives way to noise collage and industrial-esque soundscape, complete with a guest appearance by a member of Sepultura. It works though, the rapid flurry of headshots knocking you to the mat so that you are put in a submission hold until you’re ready to tap out. Works.
48. Old Man Gloom - Seminar VII + Seminar IX

Were I able to magically cobble one, singular release from the two full lengths that Old Man Gloom was so nice to offer up this year, and edit the tracks down to a handful form each, focusing on the more immediate, rewarding ones, then this certainly would have been higher up on the American Bandstand Countdown. But as it were, it’s hard slough to get through both of these in a sitting, even though they are top shelf heavy music as performed by a cast of heavy music all-stars. You know the deal.

47. Protomartyr - Ultimate Success Today

This band’s restraint in the face of what is an obvious pent up musical powerhouse, is something to behold. They give glimpses of what would happen should they decide to let the hounds loose (who let the dogs out?), but as a means to accentuate just how anxious you had become listening the music build. Lyrically Protomartyr are what it would sound like if that snake handling Pentecostal lunatic on the street corner had a doctorate in philosophy, all the while delivered in that detached stoicism that Mark E. Smith trademarked decades ago. Dread set to a post-punk soundtrack. 

46. DeathCAVE - Smoking Mountain

Hard charging doom-y sludge (if that makes any sense), from our friends in the Pacific Northwest. And say you wanted to book a show of Pacific NW bands that might help describe what DeathCAVE sounds like (or maybe you just really really miss live music), then you may want to get the phone numbers for Yob, Helms Alee, Sumac, Narrows, and Tad (as Seattle’s spiritual leaders of music this loud and ugly). That’d be a good show. I’d go to that show for sure.

45. Dying Trades - Fantasia In Orange

Here’s a band that would bridge the gap between your buddies who love Fight Amp AND your buddies who love Red Fang (but they just go at it like cats and dogs! The amateur psychoanalyst in me would point out the latent sexual dynamism between the two friend groups, and their inabilities to fully articulate their feelings in a meaningful or satisfying way appears to be forcing a show of hostility in order to mask true intentions, which would of course be to bed down with the other. And, not to editorialize, but, that copulation is going to smell completely foul).


44. Casual Nun - Resort For Dead Desires

Wildly careening between a skuzzed out Motorhead hammering to a elegiac Explosions In The Sky melancholy, with clamorous tumult and psyched out vision quests in between, this record goes for it. And I respect that (which, honestly, isn’t my respect why these bands do what they do?).  

43. Colonial Wound - Untitled

Alright, so here’s one that was originally released in 2019 on Bandcamp, but didn’t get a proper physical release until this year, so…I’m counting it. How could you blame me? It’s an all systems go onslaught of gnarled heavy, noise rock imbued hardcore. The sound of inserting your head into a foghorn. 

42. Raspberry Bulbs - Before The Age Of Mirrors

Tripped out, widescreen heir apparent to Rudimentary Peni’s black hole punk. A cheerless place that teases the listener with recognizable signposts prior to consuming them in a maelstrom of glitchy, shapeless squall. Somehow I reckon them anarchists, but I cannot prove that to be true at this time.

41. Couch Slut - Take A Chance On Rock N Roll

As wild-eyed and vein bulging an album as one could be expected from a band who purposely call 
themselves Couch Slut. A reasonable soundtrack for your next tri-state killing spree, or speed taxidermy night class.

40. Them Teeth - Tired.

Happy to see this band back again, slinging more of their maximum (noise)rock-n-roll nastiness. From the wilds of Michigan they bring a workman’s single-mindedness to elephantine pounding. It’s that ‘ol “a man has wrapped your head in a scratchy burlap sack, and is bellowing personal grievances while methodically wailing on your neck and shoulders with a 2x4”. You know…right?
39. Coriky - Coriky

There was going to be an analogy here about comfortable shoes or something, but that seemed somewhat disrespectful and the idea jettisoned to instead just say, this understated, simple, and pure music walks that tightrope of evoking past glories while making you happy to be in the now with these people and their songs. I’ve gone back to this record as much as any other on this list this year, and every time I find it invigorating (not to be used as a marital aid), I sense this one will age well.

38. Metz - Atlas Vending

Nuance be damned, Metz bark forth with more agitated rumble and roar. Maybe an ever-so-slightly less  bellowing, but just as bellicose, delivery on this album, which does not diminish the power these songs are delivered with. It’s still there hustling things forward. There is the hint of melody not quite strangled out of the album, which it’s all the better for, but noone will mistake this for the Beatles, so don’t worry.

37. Fange - Pudeur + Poigne ep

Oppressive and suffocating in their non stop barrage of nihilistic noisy death metal-cum-industrial hybrid bleakness. Nothing feels good about this album, which is the point. I think. I don’t speak French so I can’t be certain, but I feel pretty sure they aren’t espousing any tributes to Spring blooms or puppy dog kisses. Seems more like; childhood trauma and giving up on redemption type vibes. I’m sure they’re sweet dudes, but this record is fucking punishing. The Poigne ep showcases their industrial leanings, but doesn’t let that get in the way of a heavy beating.

36. Eye Flys - Tub Of Lard

I assumed they named themselves after the Melvins song, but upon first listen I would may imagine they've named themselves after a Fight Amp song. Their version of heavy has more of a visceral attack, and none of the left field ramblings of Melvins (thankfully). This also seems like something Reptilian Records would have put out this year (they didn't), not Thrill Jockey (they did), but either way, be thankful because this is a scorcher. Got members of Triac, Full Of Hell, and Backsliders up in this piece for added points.

35. Shiner - Schadenfreude

How insane that 19 years after their last album Shiner seem to have picked up exactly where they left off, returning with a new record of top tier pulsating shoegaze post-hardcore? Well, they did. You’re welcome. If you enjoyed Swervedriver’s “comeback” album from 2018, then I believe you’ll find much to enjoy here too. I did. Or do. Does?

34. Country Westerns - Country Westerns

Joseph Plunket was, to me when I met him, one of the next generation of Atlanta hardcore dudes, living in a communal warehouse, doing the things that 20 year old hardcore dudes do. I do recall we had a conversation once about Whiskeytown, and he expressed interest in things beyond hardcore (what?!) rooted in his musical youth. Fast forward, and years later he’s firmly entrenched in the Atlanta scene that birthed Black Lips and Deerhunter and the Coathangers, playing with Gentleman Jesse (among others) before starting his own thing, The Weight, playing rootsy rock songs with a distinct Gram Parsons country influence (run-on sentence alert!).  Well, fast forward a little more, and Joseph relocated to Nashville and started banging out these songs that continue the amalgam of Replacements and John Prine (so, not unlike the aforementioned Whiskeytown). They got Matt Sweeney to produce this record, and here we are. A super strong collection of tunes that are hopefully just the first batch. Stoked to see an old hardcore dude doing cool shit like this. 

33. Well - Trench Dancer

This one is probably going to be 2020’s entry into “The Epitome Of Noise Rock” competition, as it checks all the boxes required to constitute a well crafted (pun not intended) noise rock record. You got your rumbling bass lines, your martial, thundering drums, your bellowing vocals, and your sheet-of-aluminum counterpointing guitar riffs.
It’s all basically codified now, after years of research and development, but that by no means indicates a lack of quality. You just know what you’re getting, and you get what you enjoy. Assuming you get it.

32. Second Arrows - Second Arrows

This makes me think that a Refused, Snapcase and Slayer influenced mid-90’s hardcore band, like Harvest maybe, has grown up and gotten desk jobs, but still really wants that release, so they pull a band together to bang out some loud tunes on the weekends. Except these guys never settled down, best I can tell. The personnel are legit: Crispy from Deadguy/Ressurection, Chris Ross from Nora/Ensign/Rain On The Parade, Daniel Brennan from Ensign/Torchbearer, Peter August from Fleshtemple, and Chris Byrnes from Nora/Every Time I Die. The tunes work in a way that avoids the cloying legtrap of nostalgia, whilst still giving you a little 'sumptin' 'sumptin' for the pain of old age.

31. Creston Spiers - Brown Dwarf

Taking a stroll through the recesses of Mr. Spiers’ brain and hearing the elemental sounds of his musical education ricocheting off the unique web of his interpretive synapsis creates a particular and unmistakable sonance. His ability to wrestle grace and nobility out of some of the more dire and agonized guitar riffs I’ve ever heard, is not to be taken lightly. There has always been a studied approach to the dissonant art sludge AND the damaged party rock that Harvey Milk created, which put their output head and shoulders above their peers. This solo effort is no different in that method, but musically it has a lighter veneer than the tumult of Harvey Milk. The fingerprint is still recognizable, but the crime scene upon which it was left has a lower body count. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs - Vicerals


Label: Rocket
Year: 2020

From the "Almost Best Of" file.
Points deducted for having to type the word "Pis" so many goddamn times. Otherwise, a pretty flawless high torque riff flagellation that takes some from stoner rock's bottom end groove, some from psych-doom's mystical mountain moving, and some from the acutely English strain of noise rock that throbs and heaves (think Hey Colossus, Part Chimp...stuff like that). This one is a really really good one.

Lawyers - Exorcisms Are So Lit

 Label: self released
Year: 2020

From the "Almost Best Of" file.
A quick hitting but no less assaultive collection of noise rock bangers. Checks the boxes you want checked, and does so with aplomb. This one could easily on any other day have made my top picks of the year (I guess technically it is?), but I didn't hear it until later on in the year (it came out in late May), so I haven't had a chance to live with it (as they say). But trust me, this one will leave a bruise.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Vincas - Phantasma

Label: Learning Curve
Year: 2020

Form the "Almost Best Of" file.
Another album of murky, menacing Bauhaus by way of Gun Club swamp stomp death rock. But different from the last couple records, this time around Vincas sound "bigger", a little more "Marshall JCM 900" as opposed to "Fender Twin". 

Tesa - Control


Label: My Proud Mountain
Year: 2020

From the "Almost Best Of" file.
Also from the "Isis School Of Post-Sludge", this Latvian three piece brings the thunder and keeps the songs moving at enough of a clip that they never get too...uh, glacial. It's the big, warm heaviness you sometimes crave.

Caustic Wound - Death Posture

 Label: Profound Lore
Year: 2020

From the "Almost Best Of" file.
Primitive death metal scratchings that reek of putrefaction, and the beer stained walls of a Stockholm practice space.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Ryoki Center - Strychnine

Label: self released
Year: 2020

From the "Almost Best Of" file, this one is a real doozy. Full bore and preceding with extreme prejudice (or at minimum, animus), this Nashville power trio picks up the pieces from the various noise rock empires that have risen and fallen before them to mosaic a pastiche of the sub-sub genres of the medium. Bits and baubles from Louisville, Madison, Chicago, and Olympia.
The only points against this record was an attempt at covering the greatest John Prine tune (and therefore one of the greatest tunes of all time) in their staccato lurch style, which renders all of the humor, dexterity, and folksy warmth of the original moot. It hurts me to hear. But that aside, this one is a super solid, great record.

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