7″ Singles of 2020

Welcome to the annual singles countdown here at the Finest Kiss music blog (is blog still the right term?). If you’re new here, we’ve been doing these singles countdowns since 2008. The basic rule is that it had to be released on a 7″ single to qualify, which as the years go by really limits the field. Also, it’s gotta be something I like, which narrows the field even more. Here are 30 records that I bought and loved in 2020.

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1. Quivers – You’re Not Always On My Mind (Turntable Kitchen)
This song was bubbling around last year, got played a bunch on local Seattle radio station KEXP and finally got a 7″ release at the very tail end of 2019. So technically it’s a 2019 single, but this is my blog and my countdown and shipping from Australia during Covid takes longer than usual so You’re Not Always On My Mind didn’t arrive at Finest Kiss headquarters until early 2020. Quivers style of pop is close to the Catchers and the Go-Betweens with their gangling guitars, swell bass, and a contradictory chorus that is hard to forget. You’re Not Always On My Mind could have been single of the year in most years but thankfully it found me in a year when great pop songs were constant lifesavers and this one brought up my spirits on many occasions. Note, the band just released an album that covers REM’s 1991 Out of Time LP on Seattle label Turntable Kitchen that is well worth hearing as well.

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2. Vicky Tafoya – Forever (Penrose)

I would like to thank Vicky Tafoya for bring back full circle in my love of girl group pop. I remember going through a phase of digging noisy feedback drenched lo-fi indie rock influenced by the Crystals and Shangri-Las. The Vivian Girls song Where Do You Run To is a prime example of this. Now that I’m older and wis…well I’m just older, I don’t necessarily need the difficult feedback to appreciate 60’s girl group pop. A perfect example of my evolution is this Vicky Tafoya single. Tafoya has been around a while, but hasn’t recorded much so I hope Forever isn’t a one-off single and that she’s just getting re-started.

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3. The Cool Greenhouse – Alexa! (Melodic)
The Cool Greenhouse know comedy gold when they see it. Alexa! very humorously mocks those smart spearkers that folks can’t seem to live without. Alexa, email my credit card details to my contacts list. Alexa, open the pod bay doors. You get the idea. Cortana makes a guest appearance and the Cool Greenhouse continue to employ repetition (They are repeatedly making great records) to their advantage.

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4. Romero – Honey (Cool Death)

Powerpop never made anyone rich except for maybe Cheap Trick, but don’t tell Melbourne’s Romero. Honey is a brilliant debut single. A threadbare song that sounds like it was made in 70’s with a riff written with a four neck guitar in mind. It’s about something that mysteriously went down at the discotheque with killer chorus featuring vocals that bleed just a little into the red giving it a mysterious hazy urgency.

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5. The Shifters – Left Bereft (Captured Tracks)
Left Bereft sounds like it could be set in a post apocalyptic world or today. According to the band it’s “an overly simplified rabble-rouser that people who maybe use English as a second or third language can understand and maybe feel a bit of solidarity. I like to imagine drunk students in France listening to it whilst wrestling on the kitchen table.” Their Fall-ism’s abound here, but it’s so good (and Mark’s gone) that I’m just happy there’s band doing similar stuff at such a top level quality while putting their own stamp on it.

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6. The Radio Dept. – You’re Lookin’ At My Guy (Just So!)

By now, the Radio Dept. can do whatever they want and I’ll probably buy without even listening first. The A-side is a cover of the Tri-Lites 1964 single. The cover brings to light a 60’s soul influence that I hadn’t really noticed before now. It’s done in their own unique style. They seem to reach deep and go for throwback to Lesser Matters with more blown out guitars that gives it a more raw and lo-fi feeling. Even when they decide to pull a deep cut from the 60’s, this group continues to keep it fresh

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7. The Umbrellas – Maritime E.P. (Syncro System)

This is what I always hope for when a band releases killer songs as download only or a cassette…that someone will see fit press it to vinyl. That is what happened with the Umbrella’s Maritime EP. Released as a cassette in 2019 and then straight to vinyl in 2020! The SF band push the right indiepop buttons, taking some raw Beat Happening and adding some Small Factory and Versus. And it ain’t just the right influences they’ve got songs too, four of ’em that’ll have you wishing for more.

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8. Jeanines – Things Change (Where It’s At Is Where You Are)

Last year’s Slumberland debut LP was quite something and the band didn’t waste anytime following it up with this single. It continues their brilliant Siddeleys (they covered that band’s Falling Off My Feet Again) and Mama’s & the Papas (no cover yet) inspired pop. These four songs are a little more acoustic based, but still autumnal and jangle filled to the brim.

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9. Ribbon Stage – My Favorite Shrine (K)

It’s easy to forget about stuff that’s up here in the Pacific Northwest. K Records down in Olympia have been keeping the International Pop Underground going since the 1980’s. Their release schedule has slowed, but quality singles like this Ribbon Stage 7″ continue to validate their importance. My Favorite Shrine easily falls into the Dolly Mixture – Vivian Girls – Black Tambourine category of lo-fi guitar pop with melancoly vocals buried in the mix to perfect effect.

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10. The Altons – When You Go (Penrose)

Daptone started up their Penrose offshoot label this year to showcase the new soul in So-Cal (Soul-Cal?) and they didn’t hold back. Vicky Tafoya is up there at number two and here are the Altons at a solid number 10. The sweet soul falsetto will slow your life down and put you in an enviable state of mind where the rat race fades away, the sun is setting, the waves are lightly massaging the sand and you are reclined with your favorite drink taking it all in. This record really will take you there.

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11. Fleur – Petit Homme De Papier (Bickerton)

Cool submarine bass-line, skronky horns (or are they kazoos), and a riff that transports you into a pair of flares strutting down a sunny Marseille boulevard circa 1967. It’s amazing what a analog record can still do in digital age. Fleur isn’t French and isn’t old enough to remember the 60’s (neither am I) but it’s so good that being fooled is half the pleasure.

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12. Capitol – Weathered (Kingfisher Bluez)

Ontario, Canada’s Capitol (is Toronto) take a big step forward with this single. It’s moody, soaring, hopeful and blistering. It reminds me when I heard Interpol which reminded me of when I first heard the Chameleons which reminded me of how much I love sort of thing. Weathered has a great guitar lead, a circular melody and backing vocals courtesy of Charlotte Grace Victoria(ELIO) that takes this single to the next level.

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13. Doug Shorts – Money (Daptone)

Chicago’s Doug Shorts has been flying under my radar for years. Daptone smartly snapped him up and has put out a handful of his singles over the past few years. This one is steeped in 80’s Rockwell vibes. The electronic flourished beats akin to Space Invaders fuels the greatness here because Shorts has a sincere delivery with no detectable note of irony. How good is Money? I have been known to be in the kitchen belting out “I’m about that money” on repeat while flipping pancakes on the griddle.

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14. Love, Burns – Gate and the Ghost (Kleine Untergrund Schallplatte)

Pale Lights’ Phil Sutton steps out and starts another band with some of the usual suspects (Kyle Forester & Gary Olson) for this breezy single. Gate and the Ghost is pretty and brilliant with a Belle & Sebastian acoustic strum and Bluebells pop sensibility.

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15. Neurotic Fiction – Romance (Specialist Subject)

This four song single has lots going for it. Manic pop thrills along with slightly askew vibes that recall Pylon, Gang of Four and the Talking Heads. It’s hard to pick a favorite because they’re all great, but Mi Mi Mi Mascota with its twangy angular jabs applies its post-punk acupuncture to my tender spots.

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16. The Tubs – I Don’t Know How It Works (Perfect)

Ex-Joana Gruesome folks go all in on the strummy jangle popularized by the Chills and the Bats in the early Flying Nun days. Both sides of this single are top notch. I Don’t Know How It Works is a plaintive strummy number while the flip Silver Moon with its keyboard bit has a strong Chills pedigree.

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17. Shadow Show – What Again Is Real? (Hypnotic Bridge)
This Detroit trio released their debut album on the now defunct Burger Records. It was pretty solid but not flashy. This follow up heavy psychedelic single is great. It drips with garage cavewoman vibes and creates a green haze that fills your mind with weird hallucinations. B-side is a cover of the Feminine Complex song Is This a Dream? replacing the organ with dense guitars and essentially making it their own.

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18. Astrel K – You Could If You Can (Duophonic)
Astrel K is Rhys Edwards of Ulrika Spacek. Where Ulrika Spacek do prog-psycchelic rock, Astrel K is more playful and terrestrial, exhibiting some Gorky’s Zygotic Mnyci-like eccentrics that make it a fun three minute and thirty second ride.

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19. Typical Girls – Typical Girls EP (Happiest Place)

This Gothenburg, Sweden trio continue the long line of great indie pop from that country that seemed to peak at the end of the previous decade with that whistling song. The standout song on this three song single is Girl Like You which definitely has some similarities in its approach with the Concretes and Peter Bjorn and John. I for one am glad pop like this is still a thing.

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20. Neutrals – Personal Computing (Slumberland)
The bay area band with a Scottish accent have a similar sense of humor to the Cool Greenhouse (see Alexa above). Personal Computing is Neutrals’ ode to old tech. The song is full of funny one liners for the over 40 crowd and 20 something computer geeks about the bad old days of personal computer when programs were delivered to memory from a cassette tape. The only thing missing here is the dial up modem sound.

21. The Reds, Pinks and Purples – I Should Have Helped You (I Dischi Del Barone)
22. Archers of Loaf – Raleigh Days (Merge)
23. CB Radio Gorgeous – Mid Fit (Thrilling Living)
24. Mt. Mountain – Tassels (Six Tonnes De Chair)
25. Vanishing Twin – In Piscina! (Fire)
26. Native Cats – Two Creation Myths (Rough Skies)
27. Ghost Power – Asteroid Witch (Duophonic)
28. Tommy and the Commies – Hurtin’ 4 Certain (Slovenly)
29. Tomorrow Syndicate – Populous (Polytechnic Youth)
30. The Nix – The Highest (Moshi Moshi)

Albums 2020

You probably wondered (if you wondered at all) if this blog is still alive. Did it get some sort of respiratory disease and reside? Nope, if anything it’s fallen out of its owner’s purview due to the internet being taken over by corporations and this blog’s inability to prompt you to look at it more (can I interest you in push notifications?). Nonetheless, if not more for me than you, here are 35 of my favorite records of 2020. Here’s to hoping we have something in common as well as some differences!

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1. Coriky – S/T (Discord)
Ian MacKay and Amy Farina’s two albums as the Evens were ok, but they were lacking a certain something. Turns out it was MacKay’s former Fugazi bandmate bassist Joe Lally. Pop and politics is back on the menu here akin to early Fugazi and Mackay’s one-off Egg Hunt single he did with Minor Threat bandmate Jeff Nelson. The coolest thing about it all is way they incorporate 60’s pop like the Byrds and the Kinks into their punk pedigree to create something fresh yet familiar, providing something for dads, grads, and streamers. This album is prime evidence (see Clean Kill, Last Thing, and Have a Cup of Tea) demonstrating that there’s more left in the tank for aging punks everywhere to fight the power.

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2. Melenas – Dias Raros (Trouble In Mind)
On their second album the Melenas continue to progress and come up with a winning combination of bright indie pop juxtaposed with moody drone. The Pamplona group sing in Spanish, but speak in the indie lingua franca sporting elements of the Bats, Electrelane and the Pastels. Dias Raros exudes a new confidence and added muscle that wasn’t evident on their debut. 3 Segundos is a ripper of a song and  Ciencia Fiction pops off with a wild abandon that would have made Witman blush. This record is a flagship for the vibrant Spanish indie scene and worthy of your hard earned cash.

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3. The Apartments – In and Out of the Light (Talitres)
The Apartments lead by Peter Milton Walsh have been around since the mid 1980’s, but In and Out of the Light is only their second album of the 2000’s. Besides the fact that Apartments albums are rare, it really surprised me. I wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I do. It’s got a dark yet hopeful quality to it that reminds me of the Blue Nile and At Swim Two Birds. Walsh’s voice carries the weight of the world with it and evokes landscapes and emotions with his slightly raspy delivery and sparse instrumentation. A well placed horn parts and minor keys abound encouraging you to put another log on the fire and look out at the falling snow.

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4. Tough Age – Which Way Am I? (Mint)
Album number four from this Canadian band is full of jangly Flying Nun inspired songs. One, called Penny Current Suppression Ring sung by bassist  Penny Clark is about getting a demo rejected by Flying Nun. So they take your Flying Nun and raise it an Eddy Current Suppression Ring? Good songs, sense of humor, take my money.

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5. Peel Dream Magazine – Agitprop Alterna (Slumberland)
Peel Dream Magazine songs ping-pong between My Bloody Valentine and Stereolab inspirations. Every song creates a warm cocoon of buzzy vibrations, droning keyboards and sighing vocals that wrap around each other creating a sweet spot as each song worms its way to the inner ear.

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6. Destroyer – Have We Met (Merge)
Dan Bejar has a formula that he has loosely stuck to since Destroyer’s Kaputt in 2011. This album stays in the same synthesizer romance lane as Roxy Music and the Blue Nile. This batch of songs are some his best in a while and they are also replete with Bejar’s idiosyncratic humor.

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7. RVG – Feral (Fire)
For their second album, RVG hire a producer Victor Van Vugt to perhaps emphasize their grimier side. To my ears there isn’t much difference which is fine since this band really doesn’t need much help sounding great. The songs feature soaring guitar riffs reminiscent of 80’s postpunk greats like Echo & the Bunnymen and the Triffids.

fleur
8. Fleur – S/T (Bickerton)
Dutch singer Floor Elman goes by Fleur. She teams up with guys from and instrumental group Les Robots to make a French ye-ye pop record that sounds like it was born in a garage and then taken for a walk on the beach. Authentic and fun.

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9. Bdrmm – Bedroom (Sonic Cathedral)
Just when you thought shoegaze was dead, Hull’s Bdrmm come along and revive it. Their debut album balances a gray sky moodiness with a few bright sun breaks of ringing guitars that the Chameleons and the Cure were always so adept at.

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10. Jack Cades – Perfect View (Bickerton/Beluga)
The Jack Cades specialize in 60’s inspired garage rock. Their second album is quite good. Just the right amount of reverb, an eye for a good hook and a perfect amount of psych rock influence. So good, it might get you double checking the track list of the Nuggets box set to see if it’s OG.

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11. Matt Berry – Phantom Birds (Acid Jazz)
Matt Berry is an actor, comedian and musician. He’s made a lot of records, Phantom Birds is his 8th and based on its quality he’s not running out of ideas. It’s got a 60’s country feel in the vein of the Flying Burrito Brothers, the Byrds Sweetheart of the Rodeo, and Dylan’s Nashville Skyline with a little bit of kitschy funkiness thrown in to make sure it’s not a paint by numbers sort of think.

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12. Pop Filter – Banksia (Bobo Integral)
Melbourne, Australia’s Ocean Part rebrand themselves as Pop Filter and remove any self-imposed rules to make their debut album. A motoric groove here, an acoustic number there, some synth-laden janglers sprinkled in for good measure all while adhering to that Melbourne indie aesthetic that seems to keep going and going. (Note: The band released a second LP this month that I’ve yet to hear.)

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13. The Snogs – Boyfriend’s Dead (Paisley Shirt)
San Francisco’s Paisley Shirt splashed onto the scene this year with some great finds. Santa Cruz, California’s Snogs sound like they’re from Olympia, Washington. The baritone vocals will definitely remind you of a certain flagship K records band. Even if they don’t, you’ll still dig the DIY sound, youthful enthusiasm and infectious songs.

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14. Ringo Deathstarr – S/T (Reverberation Appreciation Society)
Austin, Texas shoegazers had been quiet for a bit, but return with quite a statement. They are masters at creating noisy sound collages that can sooth and blister and this record has some of their best of both.

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15. Tapeworms – Funtastic (Howlin’ Banana)
This French group sound like a bunch of mad scientists. I could imagine that they’ve got a few Elephant 6 records, some Swirlies and Lilys to go along with their MBV. Funtastic is exactly that, innocent sounding buzzing pop ditties and the sound of band having a blast.

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16. Pictish Trail – Thumb World (Fire)
Pictish Trail is Johnny Lynch who also runs the Lost Map record label which is quite excellent in its own right. Thumb World is the best Pictich Trail album yet. It’s got a DIY electronic feel which has never been a huge deal in rock and roll, but I’m a sucker for that everything and the kitchen sink mentality where he’s not trying as much to get kids on dance floor, but more for the satisfaction of just getting you nodding along, tapping your toes and opening up the window.

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17. Galore – S/T (Rocks In Your Head)
The bay area has a bit of history of generating groups inspired by Flying Nun records. Galore, like Brilliant Colors before them make jangly pops songs in the vein of Look Blue Go Purple. It’s a low key, sort of ramshackle brilliance that Galore excel at.

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18. Kelly Lee Owens – Inner Song (Smalltown Supersound)
On her second album, Owens covers Radiohead and duets with John Cale, but it’s still her show. The combination the of bloops and bleeps with her ethereal vocals give you the feeling of being under, gliding on a wind gust and breaking through the atmosphere into low orbit.

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19. Bananagun – The True Story of Bananagun (Full Time Hobby)
Combining the Byrds with Os Mutantes, Melbourne’s Bananagun create a tropical psychedelic rock record of extreme interest. It’s got cool wah-wah riffs and slinky beats and spacey ideas. Everything old is new again if you wait long enough and Bananagun deliver their take on this sound at a time when nobody was expecting it.

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20. Porridge Radio – Every Bird (Polyvinyl)
Abrasive pop in the vein of Protomartyr, Shame and PJ Harvey. Singer Dana Margolin can shout and scream with the best of them, but she includes just enough sweetness in her choruses that kept me coming back to this album.

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21. Aoife Nessa Frances – Land of No Junction (Basin Rock)
She didn’t seem to get as much attention as Aldous Harding or Cate LeBon, but her talent is at that level and this album rivals anything either has done. These psychedelic tinged folk songs may require several listens before they hit home, but with little but time on my hands I was happy to let it happen. This could be the low key sleeper album of the year.

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22. Tara Clerkin Trio – S/T (Laura Lies In)
The seven tracks on the debut album by the Tara Clerkin Trio are not exactly verse-chorus-verse songs. They allude to those kinds of songs which is what initially catches your attention, but once they get your attention they take you to places you weren’t expecting to be taken. Which, when I come to think of it, is the reason I listen to music in the first place.

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23. Boat – Tread Lightly (Magic Marker)
Seattle’s Boat took a hiatus six years ago, and returned this year with Tread Lightly. Singer Dave Crane got the guys back together and they picked up right where they left off. Longer in the tooth and slightly more grey in the beard, but no less precise in their idiosyncratic pop sensibilities. Tread Lightly could be the best Boat album, but I think that with every new Boat album.

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24. Roy – Peace and Love and Outer Space (Idée Fixe)
Sometimes it’s ok to judge a book or a record by its cover. Toronto prog-pop collective Roy give exactly the right impression with the cover of Peace and Love and Outer Space. Super fury space jams that are perfect for surfing on a rocket among other things. Step in, step on. Seatbelts are optional.

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25. Cindy – Free Advice (Paisley Shirt/Mt St Mtn/Tough Love)
This year SF band Cindy were plucked from obscurity into internet cult fandom with their second album, but it may as well have been their first since they were so under the radar. Free Advice is a record that is made for these times. Super chill, nearly hushed vocals accompanied by glacial guitars and some nice synthesized sounds. Galaxie 500 fans take note and snatch it up before it goes out of print (again).

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26. The Reds, Pinks and Purples – You Might Be Happy (Tough Love)
Glen Donaldson who’s been in a few of notable groups like Art Museums and Skygreen Leopards now uses The Reds, Pinks and Purples to gift us with his pop magic. You Might Be Happy has a sadness permeating from it, but it’s not a downer. It’s more of a nostalgic feeling that it gives off. I’ve seen a lot of Sarah records comparisons which isn’t far off. It’s post-post Sarah too, inheriting from the likes of Trembling Blue Stars and running with it.

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27. The Cowboys – Room of Clons (Feel It)
Bloomington, Indian’s Cowboys do smart(ass) post punk in the vein of Devo and Uranium Club, but they do straightforward pop too. On Wise Guy Algorithm (a nominee for song of the year) The singer sorta sounds like Feargal Sharkey until he hands the mic to one of his band mates for some of the other songs like the Kinks-Apples in Stereo inspired and kazoo laden Days. Recommended to folks who like curve balls served up in their rock ‘n roll.

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28. Lake – Roundelay (Off Tempo)
Lake have been a Pacific Northwest treasure for going on 15 years now. Roundelay sees them at the peak of their powers. Clearly influenced by likes of the Carpenters, Stereolab, Free Design and Jim O’Rourke, but operating outside of any trends or indie zeitgeist. Singers Eli Moore and Ashley Eriksson’s sound like they grew up singing in an Olympia church choir and then went home and played K records on their turntables. Smooth rock never sounded so smooth and exciting at once.

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29. Sweeping Promises – Hunger For a Way Out (Feel It)
Boston’s Sweeping Promises have gotten compared to 80’s post punk girl groups like Lilliput, Girls at Our Best! and Delta 5. Their minimalist and angular sound certainly merits it. I really like how they avoid any glossiness to their sound, going instead with a demo like quality to the recording which adds to the energy and allure of the album.

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30. Snails – Hard-Wired (Glass Modern)
On their follow up to 2016 debut album, Bristol’s Snails sound just as good and deliver higher quality set of songs. Hard-Wired is full of pastoral melodies and bucolic harmonies. It puts a smile on your face like when the sun peaks over the hillside in the early morning, the dew glistens on the grass and the birds start to sing.

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31. Elrichman – Heaven’s Mayor (Bobo Integral)
Paul Elrichman is from Toronto, but this record seems to have a Scottish indie flare to it. His warm tenor and impressive studio creations are reminiscent of the Bluebells, Aztec Camera and Orange Juice. Each song seems to start out with catchy riff and vocal drawing you immediately in and his instrumental wizardry is fully capable of making you think he’s hired a string section and a horn line.

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32. The Cool Greenhouse – S/T (Melodic)
The Cool Greenhouse are into 4CHAN and Harry Potter and I bet the Cool Greenhouse are into CB too. I had my ears on (good buddy) for this record based on the rad-ness of their Cardboard Pet 10″ and London and Landlords singles and it didn’t disappoint. Minimalist repetition along with humorous erudite lyrics keep it endlessly interesting and fun.

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33. Shopping – All or Nothing (Fat Cat)
The final show I saw in 2020 was Shopping at the Sunset Tavern in Ballard. It was March just before everything shutdown for COVID. It was packed and the band thanked everyone for risking it to come out. The UK trio were in synch that night as they are on All or Nothing. They effortlessly build riffs into anthems in an 80’s post-punk dance style that keep the politics of dancing on message and feeling good.

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34. Lavender Blush – The Garden of Inescapable Pleasure (Shelflife)
Another San Francisco band in this year’s list (what’s going on down there?). If you dig the BV’s then Lavender Blush are gonna be a pleasure. They like big guitars and seem a bit moody and are obviously influenced by UK indie bands that lean toward the Sarah records catalog. Their pop sensibilities and dour attitude are a combination really works.

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35. Marker Starling – High January (Tin Angel)
Marker Starling’s style of pop is light and slightly funky. The Aluminum Group come to mind, but he’s definitely a Steely Dan fan and very likely into Prefab Sprout. Do I really need to say more to convince you? Ok, Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier provides her cool vocals on two songs too. Now, is Marker the captain of your heart? I hope so.

25 More records that I really liked:
Islet – Eyelet (Fire)
The Stroppies – Look Alive! (Tough Love)
Thibault – Or Not Thibault (Chapter Music)
Cloth – S/T (Last Night From Glasgow)
Flat Worms – Antarctica (Drag City)
The Bats – Foothills (Flying Nun)
Shabaka & the Ancestors – We Are Sent Here By History (Impulse)
Cmon – Mix of Nations (Mexican Summer)
A Girl Called Eddy – Been Around (Elefant)
Anna Högberg Attack – Lena (Omlott)
Slum of Legs – S/T (Spurge)
Jet Stream Pony – S/T (Shelflife)
Double Date With Death – L’au-Dela (Howlin Banana)
Mo Troper – Natural Beauty (Tender Loveinf Empire)
Jeff Parker & the New Breed – Suite for Max Brown (International Anthem)
Kelley Stoltz – “Ah! (etc​)​” (Agitated)
Gil Scott-Heron – We’re New Again: A Re-imagining by Makaya McCraven (XL)
Lars Finberg – Tinnitus Tonight (Mt St Mtn)
Sault – Untitled (Rise) & Untitled (Black Is)
Green Seagull – Cloud Cover (Mega Dodo)
Protomartyr – Ultimate Success Today (Domino)
The Beths – Jump Rope Gazers (Carpark)
Tidiane Thiam – Siftorde (Sahel Sounds)
Alabaster DePlume – To Cy & Lee: Instrumentals Vol. 1 (International Anthem)
Luke Haines & Peter Buck – Beat Poetry for Survivalists (Cherry Red)

Whatsapp in the Sahara

The last album by Les Filles de Illighadad which came out in 2017 was something else. It was so engaging and hypnotic yet understated that I found myself addicted to it for a few months back in 2018. Amaria Hamadalher wasn’t in the group then, but she is now and based on this four song EP it totally makes sense. Based in Saharan desert of central Niger where the Tuareg guitar style is predominant and mostly dominated by men, Amaria Hamadalher and Les Filles de Illighadad are blazing their own trails.

The four songs of this EP were astonishingly recorded onto a cellphone, then transmitted up to the internet using WhatsApp and then made available for easy purchase on the old bandcamp via Portland, Oregon’s Sahel Sounds. You’d never know it. It sounds like they’re in a studio, or at least your living room. Hamadalher’s acoustic thump and soothing vocals are sublime. As all great EP’s it leaves you wanting more, and there’s more soon in the form of the next Les Filles de Illighadad album which can’t come soon enough.

For more about Portland’s Sahel Sounds and Amaria Hamadalher check out the Portland Mercury’s short interview with label honcho Christopher Kirkly.

Big Brain Rock

When Baltimore shoegazers Wildhoney decided to up and relocate to the west coast, I guess that slightly upset the applecart. Sometimes a change of scenery can change your perspective on many things. In this case, for a few of the Wildhoney folks after mixing with some new blood they set their sites on extending their comfort zone and trading in some dreaminess for droniness. This new group go by the name Dummy and their social media bi-line states that “making music should not be fun.”

Could have fooled me. This five song EP certainly leaves the impression that they’re having fun. Wading into similar waters as the new Peel Dream Magazine LP, both Slacker Mask and Angel Gear deftly combine elements of My Bloody Valentine and Stereolab generating amazing results. Things take an interesting turn with Folk Song which does a really cool Nico/Electrelane thing and then for their final trick, Touch The Chimes takes an eight minute ambient exit into the beyond. Lots to like here. Can’t wait to see where Dummy go next.

Spanish Tops

It’s good to see Pamplona, Spain’s Melenas returning with album number two. Their 2017 self-titled debut was a nice surprise that saw the band working in the realm of Flying Nun jangle with some additional guitar drone that brought to mind the Bats, Look Blue Go Purple and the Shop Assistants. It didn’t get much attention due to its Spanish-only release. Same for last year’s single Yo No Me Importa. Though both are out of print and going for semi-big bucks on discogs, so someone is paying attention. The new album Dias Raros which gets a US release courtesy of Trouble In Mind records should help get the group some more deserved attention and wider availability especially if you prefer hard copy music. 

Dias Raros features some new facets to their sound. Lead track Primer Tiempo features great droning keyboards that evoke classic kraut influenced stuff and bands like Electrelane and Stereolab.  Los Alemanes has similar hypnotic affects. The production and playing on this record sounds like it’s improved from their debut. The band feel more comfortable with different tempos and more space in their sound as is evident in songs like El Teimpo Ha Pasado and En Madrid and the guitar solo in 29 Grados. There are some great uptempo rockers here too. 3 Segundos, No Puedo Pensar and Ya No Es Verano are bonafide future jangle classics that even the most jaded indie rocker would find it hard not to nod along to.  If you haven’t noticed from the song titles that everything is sung in Spanish, it is. But even with my rudimentary Spanish skills I find myself singing along to some of the choruses (probably incorrectly). If you’re a fan of the jangly Dunedin sound of 80’s Flying Nun and your Spanish is better than mine, you will too.

BOAT Call It a Comeback

boat

You probably don’t know this, but I was a member of BOAT for a very brief time. I showed up for one of their album release shows, I think it was for the Dress Like Your Idols album at the Tractor. To my surprise the show was sold out. D Crane spotted me in line and I told him I didn’t have a ticket. Immediately he grabbed M McKenzie, got his wristband and gave it to me and gave his own wristband to my buddy who was also without a ticket.  A little apprehensive about impersonating members of BOAT, D Crane told me not to worry because the opening band had about 12 members and there was no way the door guy would know if we were really in the band or not.It’s a great example of how down to earth this band is and how they don’t take themselves too seriously (Their Instagram is called Sloppypopstagram and they still book shows using their fictitious manager H. Fozzleberry).

It’s been seven years since BOAT put themselves into storage. In the meantime they’ve collaborated with Math & Physics Club as Unlikely Friends for three albums and some shows. When a band with a low-profile like BOAT reforms, it doesn’t really bring with it the massive expectations concocted by fans and the media. This seems to have played in the band’s favor as D Crane and J Long traded demos back and forth. The songs for album came together in secret and with zero expectations from anyone except from the band themselves.

So what do we get with the new BOAT LP in 2020 as the band enter their 40’s (their golden years)? Believe it or not, we get the best BOAT LP yet. It’s not a concept record per se, but you could argue that it’s their mid-life crisis. Most folks have panic attacks and nervous breakdowns, BOAT writes a bunch of hits about it, infusing self-effacing humor, drum loops, bleeps and bloops, killer guitar riffs and chest thumping choruses. Metabolism, In the Water, the title track, So Many Reasons Your Turns Gray, I believe In the Principle, Loneliness Kills and the Ballad of Gaz Coombes all deserve to be considered as some of the best songs the band has written.  The guys are obviously rejuvenated and at the peak of their pop powers and make a good argument that older guys can still bring it.

 

The Big Takeover has D Crane giving a play by play for each track on Tread Lightly worth checking out.

Timeless Melodies

MoTroper

When we last caught up with Portland, Oregon’s Mo Troper it was 2017 and his very good album Exposure and Response. He’s still writing top quality pop songs on album number three which is called Natural Beauty. Where Exposure employed the services of Richard Manning of Jellyfish fame for the horn and string arrangements, this album sees Troper handling most of them himself with now obvious quality degradation.

Natural Beauty is a solid batch of songs (Almost Full Control, Come and Get Me, and Jaz from Australia are all standouts). The obvious standout song here (and one of his best songs yet) is Your Boy. It’s two minutes of sheer pop brilliance in the vein of the La’s There She Goes. Maybe it’s the similarity the two songs share in their choruses (“There she goes” vs “There goes your boy”), or it could be the jangly guitar intro, or perhaps it’s the fleeting brevity of the song. Whatever the case, it was the reason the repeat button was created. I wouldn’t be surprised if I didn’t start hearing it used in many upcoming romantic comedy movies. Get it below before it’s discovered and killed by corporate America.

Singing Cowboys

cowboys

The original singing cowboy was Gene Autry which has little to do with the Cowboys of this post. These Cowboys don’t come from Texas, instead they call the flatlands of Bloomington, Indiana home. The band seemed to start gaining some attention when Hozac released their 3rdLP in 2017 and those positive notes continued with last year’s the Bottom of a Rotten Flower which had elements of the Kinks, Who and Guided by Voices along with tight post punk riffs to keep it in the corral.

Continuing their prolific ways, Room of Clons was released by the band last month and has been really clicking with me. Wise Guy Algorithm is great midwest post punk featuring snotty similarities with Uranium Club, Devo and Pere Ubu. The Beige Collection has a great gothic feel to it. Days with its kazoo and Queen Bee Real Estate with it’s saloon piano and bounciness both sound like they could have been an outtake from Kinks Face to Face or maybe the Apples in Stereo. It doesn’t stop there either. The Human Puzzle channels some serious Television in it and Martian Childcare shows that the band can do straightforward pop and like some of the best feature a killer chorus shrouding much darker subject matter.

I can’t say that Room of Clons is their best album because I have yet to get them all. I can say that it’s a subtly great record that is very midwestern in style with nods at other eccentric mid west bands of past and present. Not flamboyant, but done with such a confidence that could be mistaken for flamboyance. Like most great records, it keeps you guessing.

So-Called Dangerous

slum

Anyone out there remember Slum of Legs? They released a couple really good 7-inch singles back in 2014 and 2015, so you could be forgiven for scratching your head in wonder. The Brighton, UK band’s perseverance is our fortune, because they now have a shiny new self-titled debut album. In case you need a reminder, they come from the Velvet Underground, the Fall, and Comet Gain school of jangly drone that breaks any melodic rules you may have concocted for that sort of music. Featuring a violin prominently, the group play by a different set of rules. They can do anthem type rockers, but love to devolve into full-on raging cacophony.

Benetint & Malevolence starts the record, alluding to a Scottish highlands atmospheric feel and that slowly builds and builds until you find yourelf in the middle of a good old midwestern thunderguster. The band also smartly bring back their eponymous theme song that originally appeared on their first cassette, and get playful sounding on I Dream of Valves Exploding. I appreciate the breadth of topics that the group tackles, eschewing the overdone typical love song thing. A good example of this is the song Baader-Meinhof Always Look So Good In Photos. Pop terrorists taking on real life terrorists. It rightly gives the listener the impression that she really needs to be on her toes if she’s committing to this band. Who said pop music wasn’t dangerous?

Soft as Snow but Super-Electric

peeldream

If you haven’t heard, this new Peel Dream Magazine album is something else. If we’ve learned nothing in the last 10-15 years of the ongoing shoegaze revival it is that mimicking the shoegazy wall of sound is easy, but really it’s all a bout the tunes.That’s the hard part. Not for Peel Dream Magazine, they have a cart load of them on their new album Agitprop Alterna.

The band seem to have two primary references, My Bloody Valentine and Stereolab and songs bounce between those influences. For example Pill evokes early Isn’t Anything era MBV and in my on pinion surpasses it. Then the next song Emotional Devotion Creator switches on some Stereolab droning keyboards. It’s a good kind of whiplash that has you at first spotting the influence but you quickly move into head-shaking disbelief about how good it is. Every song creates a warm cocoon of buzzy vibrations, droning keyboards and sighing vocals that ping pong around each other and collide at that sweet spot somewhere in the inner ear.

It wasn’t always this way. That first Peel Dream Magazine album Modern Meta Physic from a couple years ago showed some promise, but took some effort to get through. Last year’s Up and Up EP saw the group adding members and a sharper pop sensibility. Bands grow up fast these days, and Peel Dream Magazine second LP sees them moving quickly from pimply adolescents to seasoned blissed-out, ecstasy-laden dream-pop beasts.