Here's a link to the playlist. The play buttons embedded here will play 30-second clips if you're not logged into Spotify in your browser, which is probably the best way to listen to the tracks while reading this article.
What a month, huh? Somehow, despite it all, it really does feel like some absolutely fantastic albums and tracks have come out recently. Here are a few that stuck out for me.
Moaning — Ego
I stumbled upon Moaning's sophomore effort completely on accident after coming across "Don't Go" on my Spotify "Your Top Songs 2018" playlist and I'm very glad that I did. Uneasy Laughter is a masterpiece of a record. It's dark and mysterious; it's quintessentially shoegaze, but there's so much range between each track on the record that I will never get tired of listening to it.
In "Ego," the rising tones of the refrain "I want to be anybody but myself / I want to love anybody but myself" legitimately give me chills. It's like all of the feelings evoked by the new wave hits of yesteryear in one beautiful package for the year 2020. It's a powerful call to action, and it's hard not to get wrapped up in it.
Elsewhere on the record, "Stranger" is a devastating ballad with a dark, gorgeous, reverbed vibe. "Make It Stop" is exactly what it sounds like — a haunting refrain with a real mission, where guitars that would be absolutely screaming if they weren't slightly buried and a punchy, octave-driving bass circle around to an emphatic chorus.
Uneasy Laughter should stand up as era-defining. It should be the album that we point to as one of the masterpieces of this decade.
BAMBARA — Stay Cruel
"Stay Cruel" is a dark, brooding song. It sounds cinematic; it tells a sinister story alongside an almost country-western symphony smothered and covered by a passionate vocal style and harsh lyrics. There's something evil about it; a leather-jacket-wearing, slowly simmering cool.
Midwife — S.W.I.M.
Midwife did a great job with this track which they left for last on Forever. The deep reverb on every single layer on the song — even the drums — devours the very distorted, unapologetic vocal line. And somehow there's space amongst all the noise for a sweet, sad guitar melody to add to the layers.
Another fantastic track off Forever is "Anyone Can Play Guitar" — no relation — which also tells an equally sad tale with its instrumentation and vocal melodies.
Nation of Language — Rush & Fever
"Rush & Fever" is extremely cool; it beeps and boops but remains laid back. They do a great job of replicating the gut-wrenching crooning of The National's Matt Berninger — the "save, us save us, saints from above" from the chorus sounds like it would fit right in on High Violet — on top of a sort of Tears For Fears vibe. It works really well, coming together in a bouncy, hip, danceable jam. There's a little bit of pastiche in this track. But still, it's really good.
Lanterns on the Lake — Baddies
"Baddies" starts as a stripped-down tune and evolves into a beautiful ballad with gorgeous harmonies and epic, jarring chords. The balance between its verses and the powerful chorus is startling; it shifts between soft and loud without trying too hard. It's a jam which knows when to drop down to be quiet. If you looked at the waveform of this track, it would be a shifting figure that may actually be completely silent at some points and 100% signal at others. It's a very sly, cool track with very catchy vocals.
Damien Juardo — Alice Hyatt
The underwater vibe here combines so well with vocals that almost sound like James Blake with Ween-style vocal effects. The record that this single supports just came out on May 1st; if it's anything like this track, I'm sure it'll be one to cherish for a while.
Agnes Obel — Broken Sleep
What a beautiful song. I have no idea what's going on here with the sampled, chopped up melodies which sit on top of very light percussive not quite piano notes — Obel's dulcet vocal line is modified, extended by clearly digital effects in a way that catches your ear. As the song builds on itself, the strings sound almost like a ticking clock, creating a deep atmosphere that's easy to get hooked on.
Wilsen — Feeling Fancy
Tasmin Wilson's vocals here are so pure and gorgeous. They play so well overtop of a sweet, atmospheric backbeat which often trades where it places its emphasis; it's not quite math rock, but it's an indie that gives itself space to experiment while still sounding very put-together and extremely well produced. The combination of Wilson's double-tracked vocal timbre and the spacey, nearly-constant guitar emphasis work so well together — but at other times, it's just Wilson singing on top of a lullaby-like arpeggiation that may or may not be guitar with other stuff sprinkled in. It's so hard to describe this track, but it is obviously and clearly beautiful.
Waxahatchee — Witches
"Witches" is a nice semi-country jaunt which tells a story whose lyrics rarely actually register with me as I listen to it, but sounds so utterly sweet and sad. The clean rip of the short guitar solo which brings in a verse just fits so perfectly with the drawl and harmonies which so clearly evoke indie rock from the American South. Katie Crutchfield does a great job here picking up the torch for a great literary tradition formed by country music tropes; "Witches" rules and you should give it a shot, even if you "don't like country."
Kiwi jr. — Wicked Witches
"Wicked Witches" sounds a whole lot different than the rest of Football Money, Kiwi jr.'s debut record. It claps and wiggles, and it's a fun party in a way that's slightly different from the rad party of the rest of the album. Kiwi jr. is following the path that Stephen Malkmus has set up for them; the record has a pretty 90s/early-2000s indie rock vibe, and it comes together so well. This track itself, though, is delightfully choppy and eager and just a good time.
Lewsberg — Cold Light of Day
It was impossible to pick one song off this record. Do you like Television? Do you like Ought? If so, you should sit down, play this record, close your eyes, and let it wash over you.
"Cold Light of Day" is probably one of the more approachable tracks off the album, with a heavy groove and killer guitar riffs. The sing-talking lyrics come in with a kick — this track is just an absolute jam that can rivaled the greatest Jam Bands.
Who you are and who you think you are
Things you take, things you take too far
Things you expect to happen…
Up and away in the cold light of day, up and away.
I have another favorite in "Left Turn," which kicks the album off with a dissonant, repeating chord that reflects the ripping poetry inside. These two songs together set the stage for the rest of the work, which is so incredible. I wasn't kidding; please just close your eyes and listen.
Deeper — Lake Song
Deeper's Auto-Pain is an incredibly cool album, cover to cover. There's a driving pace behind "Willing," with a semi-funk bassline and choppy, clean guitars that are so perfectly blended with the emphatic sung melody. But the haunting synth and percussive guitar solo in "Lake Song" drives the rest of the pendulum-like groove, creating a rich atmosphere with plenty of space and passion.
Torche — Admission
Ooh, that crunchy bass line. Torche could probably be considered a metal band, but this song defies genre in such a fantastic way. The powerful bass and reverby, constant guitar licks combine with a very clean, tactile drum beat and some surprisingly "alt" vocals to make a heart-wrenching package.
There's a really quick shredding guitar solo a little over two minutes into the song that goes a long way to contribute to the wall of thunder conveyed by this track. Some folks might be put off by the vocal style, but please don't be: embrace the rock.
Mush — Revising My Fee
Mush's lead singer, Dan Hyndman, has turned his throat into a column; a muted French horn through which he blasts, well, a handful of complaints.
3D Routine is the early work of The Arctic Monkeys if it was more punk and actually had class consciousness. Each individual song off of this record is a ripper — a peppy, crunchy jam to take collective action to.
Also, they sound really good on recordings. This video basically sounds exactly like the album version, but with enough room to improvise in the guitar solo to still feel like a song that they enjoy shredding.