There are no ifs or buts about it – SUUNS are a band caught in a unique juncture of past and present on their new EP, FICTION. On the eerie opener, “LOOK,” the Montreal-based band conjures an ominous atmosphere straight off the bat. Vocalist Ben Shemie recalls sermons, his vocals high in the mix; processed to the point where words are unintelligible but that doesn’t even matter. All you can focus on is the feeling “LOOK” demands. “FICTION” takes a leaf out of trip-hop legends Portishead’s books with beats contrasting against a mournful elegy: “Where are you from, you don’t seem to know,” Shemie sings. “Life is long as a day/And one by one, you see them fall/I can’t talk, can’t take anymore.”Read More “SUUNS – Fiction EP”
20 years ago, Radiohead released an album that encapsulated an experimental fusion of cacophonous jazz (“The National Anthem”), ambient music (“Treefingers”), “traditional” rock moments (“Optimistic”), and electronic music (the rest). Kid A was unveiled during a moment in time that demanded heated discussion, introspection, and patience. With patience comes great reward: to understand the album the way it was intended opens up a whole new world. The record also immediately cast a behemoth-sized shadow over what Radiohead had done before (yep, even OK Computer) and what would come after (In Rainbows, too).
Singer Thom Yorke found himself exhausted with burnout following a lengthy tour of OK Computer. He began to despise everything about “rock music” as we knew it – guitars, the glamorization of drug and alcohol addiction – and his vision of what “rock” music could be would inadvertently change the music industry and online music culture for decades to come. For many Gen X-ers, Kid A was one of the earliest albums experienced online. Pre-streaming era, over 1,000 websites posted Kid A and it was streamed over 400,000 times, three weeks before the album’s release. There was no promotion – no music videos, the band declined to do interviews – but that didn’t stop incessant arguments on whether the album was Radiohead’s magnum opus or hot garbage, nor did it stop the reviews coming.
Alanis Morissette needs no introduction, but she deserves one. At 21 years old, her breakthrough album, Jagged Little Pill sold 33 million copies worldwide, was nominated for nine Grammy Awards, winning five (including Album of the Year), and it’s one of the best-selling albums of all time. The singles are magnificent – each a warranted choice for best song on the album. Whether you were a year old in 1995, 13-years-old or pushing 30, “You Oughta Know” and “Ironic” were inescapable. Most astounding of all, Morissette channeled unflinching female rage in a fashion that was unheard of in mainstream music at the time. She also didn’t dream about growing older – she had one hand in her pocket, and the other one “giving a high five,” “flicking a cigarette,” and “hailing a taxi cab.” She effectively became the voice of a generation overnight – a voice for those who never expressed their desires, their fears, or their anger.
In many ways, Morissette’s ninth album — her first album in eight years — Such Pretty Forks in the Road, feels like a love letter to her many past selves. Originally written for the 2018 Jagged Little Pill musical, opener “Smiling” calls back to the drama of “Uninvited,” as well as the Radiohead classic, “My Iron Lung,” echoing Jonny Greenwood’s descending guitar notes; only quieter. “Smiling” also paves the way for the rest of the album: she’s back, and she’s more confessional than ever.Read More “Alanis Morissette – Such Pretty Forks in the Road”
“You are a beam of light / maybe that’s why your battery runs dry,” Elizabeth Stokes sings on the penultimate track of Jump Rope Gazers, the highly anticipated sophomore album from New Zealand group, The Beths. “You Are A Beam of Light” is the sole acoustic song on the album, and what a song it is. In the hands of another pop-punk songwriter, the track could come across as corny; or worse, convey zero emotion in a story that should tug at your heartstrings. Stokes, though, is a songwriter who transforms the mundanity and nostalgia of life into something universal and wholly captivating, while highlighting her introspective mind.
The Beths’ debut album, Future Me Hates Me was a surprise hit. Well, it was a surprise to the band. To everyone listening, it was clear that the four-piece had created something extraordinary. According to Chris Taylor at The Line of Best Fit, “Future Me Hates Me was one of the most self-assured and exciting debuts in recent years.” It’s true: with their debut, The Beths had me enjoying pop-punk for the first time since my teens. The success of the album propelled the Kiwis to newfound heights, spending 2019 touring with Pixies, subsequent to a stint in Europe and the UK with their personal heroes, Death Cab for Cutie (The Postal Service’s Give Up is an album Stokes knows front to back).Read More “The Beths – Jump Rope Gazers”
2020 has been shit. Not good shit, not the shit; but a royal shit show. In Australia, the number of people suffering from COVID-19 have been low in comparison to the horrific amount of deaths overseas. For that, we are resoundingly lucky. That doesn’t mean we’re immune to the conspiracy theories (“the 5G towers are causing COVID-19!”), or apathy. Individualism over collectivism in western society has proven itself to be a curse. If only we all cared about the most vulnerable people in our communities some more. If we did, perhaps we wouldn’t still be in this shit.
All of that said, 2020 has had a saving grace: Music. As always, music remains my lifeline, my inspiration, and brings some excitement to everyday life. The Aussies have been on fire, with legends like Gordi, The McClymonts and Hayley Mary (of The Jezabels) proving they’re here to stay for good. Newcomers Nat Vazer and Miiesha make me miss intimate gigs so much. This year, we have also witnessed some of the most stunning comeback albums ever. There’s Fiona Apple returning after eight long years with Fetch the Bolt Cutters, an album that’s a complete outlier within her discography but still uniquely her. Hum also returned after 22 years (!) with Inlet, an epic album that delivers on the riffs and soundtracks the apocalypse.Read More “Mary Varvaris’s Top Albums of 2020 (So Far)”
Sophie Payten, the Australian folk-pop artist known as Gordi, is one of the finest songwriters to ever come from this country. In August 2017, she released her debut album, Reservoir, which peaked at #20 on the ARIA Chart. Following the release of the record, Payten dove straight into exploring her collaborative side; appearing on “Postcard” with Troye Sivan, as well as featuring alongside Julien Baker, Bon Iver, The National, and more. Last year, Payten worked as a doctor at the Prince of Wales Hospital after completing her medical studies at The University of New South Wales in 2018. In January, Gordi released her first song in three years: “The Cost,” with all proceeds going to the 2020 Australian Bushfire Relief. Her second album, Our Two Skins, was somehow created amongst all of this.Read More “Gordi – Our Two Skins”
Something spellbinding occurs on “How Ya Lonesome,” the midway point of Sorceress – the fourth album from Texas-native, LA-based musician Jess Williamson – her already magnetic universe opens up before us in a kaleidoscope of hazy ‘70s cinema and meditative psychedelia, offering a story of love and uncertainty beside weaving pedal steel guitar, piano and synths. Sorceress sees Williamson remain true to her country roots while growing in ambition.
Williamson weaves untamed love letters to our confounding present and uncertain future – accompanied by musings on femininity (she questions what it means to be an aging woman in this society on “Ponies in Town”: “Am I aging well? Am I just an aging well?”), the pursuit of perfection; a search for meaning via Tarot, astrology apps and crystals; evocative critiques of capitalism and living online and details the lives and deaths of loved ones. Sorceress is an album about loss – lost innocence and facing mortality head-on – and self-assured insight. These reflections orbit around Williamson’s superb voice, a pure voice, a voice of might and vulnerability.Read More “Jess Williamson – Sorceress”
O’Brother has never been an easy band to pin down. I’ll leave it to them, as they explain it best: they’re a “borderline metal band that’s heavily influenced by Radiohead and Sigur Ros”. Their debut album, 2011’s Garden Window embraced chaos and mystique, featured vocals from Andy Hull (Manchester Orchestra) and introduced the band’s experimental nature. O’Brother quickly amassed a loyal following through clever, brilliant music and non-stop touring. Disillusion (2013), their sophomore effort, expanded on the post-metal influence the band only teased beforehand. In 2016, O’Brother released one of the best albums of the year in Endless Light.
Last week, O’Brother put up their new album, You and I on Bandcamp for a pay-what-you-want price. On April 7 2020, first single “Killing Spree” was unveiled to the world, following a few days of teasing online. Where Endless Light touched the surface of using space as an instrument, their fourth album, You and I revels in ambience. Guitarists Jordan McGhin and Johnny Dang go back and forth between classical guitars and staring at the computer. Anton Dang still plays the bass guitar, of course. Michael Martens hardly plays the drums. In the meantime, vocalist Tanner Merritt reaches for the piano. I caught up with O’Brother this week from their respective homes over a surprisingly non-lagging Zoom call. Martens chatted from his living room, McGhin from his bedroom, Anton Dang from his porch, and Johnny Dang and Merritt from their offices/home studios.
When we discuss romantic comedy films, we think about the leads, namely (for me, anyway) the self-deprecating humor of Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts’ undeniable charm and wit. Conversely, we also think of the songs that soundtrack first kisses, heartbreak, and the cheesy romantic gesture leading to our gorgeous couple’s reconciliation. Maybe it’s the heart-warming ending of The Breakfast Club, with the triumphant “(Don’t You) Forget About Me,” immediately springing to mind. Maybe you adore Love Actually and can’t help swooning over “White Flag” by Dido. Or the playing of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” as Hugh Grant’s Will mourns rejecting Julia Roberts’ Anna in Notting Hill. No matter what song comes to mind for you, here’s the star whose music should feature in the next Netflix rom-com: Hala.
“Blurgtones” was the long-time running title for “No Authority,” a magnetic tour-de-force in melodic post-hardcore from Pennsylvania outfit Blurgundy. The band’s second EP, Wither, came about during long sessions listening to Deftones, O’Brother, and Seahaven. Bassist and vocalist Logan Ressler wrote the main riff during these sessions, writing the bulk of the song with drummer Michael Cross. While “Betrayer” and “You Should Stay Home” were written as a group, songs like “No Authority” and “Reverie” were written by two members – “Reverie” was mostly written by Ressler and guitarist Matthew Subers. Ressler is the band’s secret weapon, as his endlessly creative mind ticks through guitar riffs and melody progressions. He doesn’t stop there: Ressler has recorded, mixed, and mastered every Blurgundy song thus far.
Although?Nap Eyes?couldn’t have predicted the circumstances behind it, their fourth album,?Snapshot of a Beginner?is a comforting album for the social distancing era. Songwriter and vocalist, Nigel Chapman springs between anxiety-induced stalling of tasks (“Mystery Calling”) to “feeling bored and unquestionably boorish” for writing songs about himself on “Though I Wish I Could.” Snapshot of a Beginner?takes both the snappy and slacker rock moments of Nap Eyes’ third album,? I’m Bad Now?and encourages your grooviest dance moves to some pensive jams.
The Halifax, Nova Scotia outfit is Chapman, Seamus Dalton on drums and percussion, guitarist Brad Loughead and bassist Joshua Salter. Joining them are producers, James Elkington (Joan Shelley, Steve Gunn), and Jonathan Low (The National, Big Red Machine) to elevate the band’s slick sound with flourishes of additional piano, keyboards, organ, synthesizer, pedal steel guitar, and percussion. Nap Eyes, exceedingly open and clever, may leave you entranced — but, contrary to the name, their music certainly isn’t a slog.
Loom isn’t the album experimental musician and producer Katie Gately intended to make. At the time of her mother’s diagnosis of a rare destructive cancer, she was close to finishing an entirely different album. However, she quickly recognized that she “didn’t have the bandwidth to make that record anymore.” So, she returned to her Brooklyn family home and completely recreated the album around the 10-and-a-half-minute saga that deals with substance abuse, “Bracer,” which was her mother’s favorite track. Where her 2016 debut album, Color exhibited a frenzied and fierce listen, Loom reveals equally frantic textures and retains her debut’s display of melodic pop sensibilities. Although, this time around, her voice is front and center, atop harsh sound design.
Gately’s mother passed away in 2018. To convey the enormity of such a loss, she’s added real earthquake recordings and samples of further wreckage, such as peacocks screaming, wolves howling, pill bottles rattling, a machine gun going off, the take-off of a fighter jet airplane, a coffin shutting, and heavily processed audio from her parent’s wedding. The swiftness of her mother’s diagnosis and passing held an impending weight over Gately, and so Loom?captures the bizarre nature of imminent doom, but also with some iridescent colors.
Kaya Wilkins is just like you. Well, sort of. She enjoys Netflix and vegan peanut butter chocolate ice cream; she fights jet lag, experiences yeast infections, and she summons introverts such as myself to her “Zero Interaction Ramen Bar.” All of these facets are wrapped up in Wilkins’ penchant for light, luminous melodies. The Norwegian-born, New York-raised artist is fully realized on Watch This Liquid Pour Itself, her Jagjaguwar debut and second album under the Okay Kaya moniker. Recorded mostly by Wilkins herself, she collaborated with producers Jacob Portrait (Whitney, (Sandy) Alex G) and John Carroll Kirby (Solange, Kali Uchis) in order to further her vision. Inside its 39-minute runtime, Watch This Liquid Pour Itself presents forms of wetness through the lens of oceans, rivers, and ponds. The water in this universe is not of rebirth or revitalization, though, even when Wilkins misleads you so.
What a year. At times, it seemed as though I’d never had enough music to listen to. Then, at the busiest times of the year, I felt like I had fallen dreadfully behind and wouldn’t find my way back to consuming new music the way I did at the beginning of 2019. It’s also a year that found me diving into discographies of artists I should have devoted myself to much sooner: from Portishead to R.E.M. to mewithoutYou. It’s been another delightful year for music.
After much thought and almost giving up on creating my End of 2019 list, I have finally chosen my favourite music from the past year. Some albums have landed as honourable mentions, particularly if they were released too late (sorry, Harry Styles!), or I just couldn’t move these albums around again. To be honest, I simply don’t watch enough movies to warrant a favourite list of films. Same case with television (although, I’m marginally better there). I hope you find some music that connects with you the way it has with me. Without further ado, here are my top 30 albums of 2019. Plus, some equally special honourable mentions!
Michael Barrios is in his San Diego bedroom, sitting by the window. His long-time partner, Daisy is beside him. Above her head are polaroid pictures tracing their four-year-long relationship. All of Barrios’ musical equipment is scattered across the floor, including his newest synth pad. There’s a disco ball above the bed. He’s a softly spoken, passionate man, and it’s been two years since his last interview.
It’s been three and a half years since the release of Barrios’ debut album under the No Hope Kids moniker, Our Time Apart. Next year will see the unconventional young artist make his return. With this upcoming release, he’s changing the name – although, he hasn’t gained much hope. Planning this currently unnamed new project (there are some cool album titles in play), returning to being in a long-distance relationship, and juggling full-time jobs with it all hasn’t been easy. But you can count on those experiences popping up throughout the album.