10 All Hits – “Men and Their Work”
I had no idea I’d be implicitly championing a whole new wave of female-led hardcore punk from Portland, but here I go with one of two installments of just that, the title track on the new album from All Hits (a name which certainly seems fairly sarcastic). I guess I just find this stuff refreshing at this point and as we know Portland is quite the political hotbed right now as well as probably the exact locale where Donald Trump would stick the nozzle if he had to give our fine nation an enema.
9 Dan Shake – “Mosquito”
Dan Shake makes hypnotic electronica that sidles along with some level of unassuming nonchalance, but of which close listens reveal delicate care for sounds. Like a more club-ready Four Tet, this music is velvety smooth, like in the title track opener on his new EP with its robust, textural kicks, and commendable penchant for moving from percussive to melodic with absolute effortlessness.
8 Julianna Barwick – “In Light”
This is a fitting title for a Julianna Barwick tune because from the genesis of her career, her music almost seemed to carry the fluidity and ephemeral qualities of light itself — like something supremely powerful but also too refined to even be held in your hands. Vocal duties are shouldered on “In Light” partly by Los Angelean Jonsi, adding up to a trippy spiked punch of treated, spliced voiced sounds mixed with keyboards so fine and pliable you could mistake them for voices, as well.
7 Ghost of Vroom – “Rona Pollona”
A lot of hype was administered for Mike Doughty’s (Soul Coughing) new project Ghost of Vroom, and their kinda-second, kinda-first release Ghost of Vroom 2, all for the album to contain only three songs. Well, they better be good, which they are, with track two “Rona Pollona” a nod to the “Corona” and producing the same half-street, half-psychedelic sort of groove you would have found on Soul Coughing’s second album Irresistible Bliss.
6 Throwing Muses – “Frosting”
This new Throwing Muses album was frustrating, in a way, leaving in my opinion University as their only “classic” of their catalogue. The emotions were just heavy, forced and ham-handed on much of it but when they summoned up some real grunge steam, it could make for some rewarding moments. “Frosting” is a half-hidden gem on side B and reminds me of the strong moments on University when the band rocked with sangfroid and Kristin Hersh just jumped on the carousel of life and had faith in it, emotional platitudes be da**ed.
5 Action Bronson – “Sergio”
I’ve now undergone not one, but two, transformations of opinion this year on a generally popular hip-hop entity. The first would be Run the Jewels who kind of just took the Rage against the Machine approach to making hip-hop (and yes coincidentally Zack de la Rocha is actually on one of the tracks) and went all out, wielding supreme, sovereign anger at the state and making music that’s big, bulbous and undeniable. And not that I’m about to name Action Bronson my favorite rapper or anything but I gotta admit the dude can flow, with his new project Only for Dolphins ironically grafting out some true New York DNA to his name, toning down the sexual innuendo a little bit (though not that much, really) and fostering “Sergio,” which true to form pits a spare, almost ambient beat against some disillusioned, clearly delivered street diction: “I see the world from all angles / And from a thin thread my soul dangles / Just like a mango”.
4 Era Bleak – “Mind Control Tower”
On the best hardcore punk album probably since Iceage’s You’re Nothing, the second self-titled album from Era Bleak (some bands really just seem neurotic about naming albums, like Weezer), you could pretty much pick any of the punchy, busy and pi**ed -off tracks to go in this slot. “Mind Control Tower,” anyway, seemed to mix politics and sci-fi in a way that seems all too relevant in 2020, with an allusion of one’s Smart Phone controlling their brain from outside, with the help of this giant “Big Brother” tower that hovers over us all.
3 Special Interest – “All Tomorrow’s Carry”
Now, after taking all these bands that seem to have Master’s degrees in the University of Ian MacKaye, it’s nice to come across a collective like New Orleans’ Special Interest that, like other exciting acts this year like Blaque Dynamite, plants programmed drums in a mix that otherwise is decidedly, viscerally “rock.” You could call them both “industrial” except the singers actually seem like everyday people with varied interests and not just future serial killers, and whatnot.
2 Ghost of Vroom – “1918”
A song like “1918” is certainly hard to describe and seems to pretty much absorb and draw from every seminal American genre of music in its history, from jazz, to funk, to rock and to rap. Understanding of it, though (not that understanding is a requirement for enjoyment or anything) might hinge on Mike Doughty’s statement in an interview with Stereogum that “‘The Soul Coughing style was a sampler on stage that played a keyboard/sound effects thing…’” From there, we go on the wild ride that produced “1918,” as Ghost of Vroom was conceived as a stylistic reincarnation of Soul Coughing and actually was originally designed to be a band reunion. The end result might be even more exciting, though, with endless noodley funk-nuggets at play here as well as the amusing sound bite of a man articulating the words “I’m a tree!”
1 BEANS – “Street Troll”
I must profess that I’m an ardent fan of this band’s new album All Together Now, which straddles an edgy line between ’90s indie rock and Britpop of that same decade with the rhythmic knack and songwriting purposefulness few if any have harbored before. “Stride” is a multifarious gem with catchy brilliance and a Led Zeppelin-like tempo change but I sort of arbitrarily leaned on “Street Troll” for its similarly excellent, treated vocal production and the sort of ballsy statement on the “street troll” that “And he’s got no soul!” It just seems like the kind of thing that must come with a pretty potent swatch of sensitivity.