As it turned out, 2020 was only part one of a difficult and frankly batshit time to exist on planet earth. Fortunately, through all the muck that was 2021, we’ve been graced with some truly stunning works of art. These are the albums that were able to blend all the pain and beauty this year had to offer. Here are the albums that I continue to spin since release and will be spinning for the foreseeable future:
Bodom After Midnight – “Paint the Sky with Blood”
Cult of Luna – “The Raging River”
Soen – “The Undiscovered Lotus”
Enslaved – “Caravans to the Outer Worlds”
Insomnium – “Argent Moon”
Best Live Albums:
Ulver – “Hexahedron: Live at Henie Onstad Kunstsenter” & “Scary Muzak”
This definitely was not the easiest year to pick a best of list. I enjoyed a ton of albums but ultimately narrowed it down to twenty that have stuck with me for a variety of reasons. There are certainly some that didn’t make the cut and I’m still likely exploring those and haven’t quite figured them out yet. Devin Townsend’s The Puzzle/Snuggles and Swallow the Sun’s Moonflowers being a couple of examples. There are also a few that came very close like Maiden’s Senjutsu and Mol’s Diorama but ultimately I had to cut somewhere so here we are.
At the Gates – “The Nightmare of Being”: What do you mean Carcass isn’t #1?? Well what can I say other than At the Gates put out the album that really defined this year for me. The dudes put out some of their best riffs and catchiest songs to date. “Spectre of Extinction” is easily one of the best songs they’ve written and a track I simply can’t stop listening to. Not only that but ATG went full prog and I’m a damn sucker for that. Check out “The Fall Into Time” for one example of this. This is epic, brutal and exactly what I want from one of the classiest Melo-death bands around. Songs to Listen To: Spectre of Extinction, The Fall Into Time, Eternal Winter of Reason
Harakiri for the Sky – “Maere”: One of the most emotional and heartfelt albums this year comes from Harakiri for the Sky who took things up yet another notch with “Maere”. The album starts with a proper banger in “I, Pallbearer” and doesn’t let up. Songs to Listen To: I, Pallbearer, Sing for the Damage We’ve Done, Song to Say Goodbye
Between the Buried & Me – “Colors II”: Very few bands would risk making a sequel to one of their most beloved albums. Count on BTBAM for fully embracing it and making an album that while attached to the core of the original Colors, is really its own beast entirely. It’s an incredibly varied album and truly distinct. It doesn’t rely on its sibling and yet clever traces of the DNA are woven in. This is how you write a sequel. Songs to Listen To: Revolution in Limbo, The Future is Behind Us, Bad Habits
Leprous – “Aphelion”: While the last album, “Pitfalls”, was somewhat a change of pace for the band, Aphelion manages to mix the sound of that with some of their earlier albums and creates one of their finest moments yet. This has potential to become one of my all time favorites from the group and I’ve yet to grow bored of a single track. Songs to Listen To: Nighttime Disguise, The Silent Revelation, Silhouette
Rivers of Nihil – “The Work”: Rivers of Nihil pulled off quite an ambitious record with “The Work”. This could have easily gone poorly with a fairly big leap from what they did on “Where Owls Know My Name”. Fortunately with this innovative band at the hull, we’re treated to a great blend of genres and excellent songwriting. Songs to Listen To: Clean, Terrestria IV, Wait
Deafheaven – “Infinite Granite”: I’ll admit this one has been all over the map for me but I feel very comfortable where it stands on my list now. I was lucky enough to see the band perform the album front to back live and it changed the full experience for me. If you’ve previously written it off, I highly recommend catching Deafheaven’s 2022 tour if they make a stop in your city. Songs to Listen To: Great Mass of Color, Mombasa, In Blur
Steven Wilson – “The Future Bites”: Possibly my most decisive choice here (along with Deafheaven) but where “To the Bone” felt like a warm up for this direction, Wilson fully commits to an electronic sound. For my money, it works brilliantly. That isn’t to say I don’t miss his guitar led albums like “The Raven that Refused to Sing” but this is still a prog album in its own way. Just perhaps not what most are used to in the traditional sense. There are plenty of masterful tracks to discover here for the open minded. Songs to Listen To: King Ghost, Man of the People, Eyewitness. Note: I’m cheating a little bit as Eyewitness isn’t from the album proper but one of the many great tracks that was recorded during the sessions. How it isn’t on the main album is beyond me as it’s wonderful.
Dream Theater – “A View from the Top”: Did you really think Dream Theater’s latest wouldn’t be on my list? Admittedly, I don’t know if this one will stick with me as much as their last album, “Distance Over Time”, did which is why it’s lower down the list. Regardless, it’s a damn fine collection of songs by one of the best bands out there. Songs to Listen To: Answering the Call, The Alien, A View from the Top
Mastodon – “Hushed & Grim”: This is an overwhelming and lengthy listen and yet it’s absolutely stunning. It may be awhile before I can claim it’s their best since “Crack the Skye”, but I can say with certainty that the band sound on top of their game. This was only further solidified when I saw them perform several of the tracks live earlier this month. Songs to Listen To: Pain with an Anchor, Pushing the Tides, Gigantium
Tribulation – “Where the Gloom Becomes Sound”: I was debating as to which album would ultimately get the final slot in the top 10 and I found that out of the rest of the top 20 here, this is the one I came back to the most. Though it may not beat out 2015’s “The Children of the Night” in the bands discography, it’s a very solid album. Plus the vinyl exclusive track “The Damphir” is one of the best Tribulation songs period. Songs to Listen To: Hour of the Wolf, Leviathans, Funeral Pyre.
A couple of weeks ago, artists Brett Millerand Brainheart joined forces again for “As Long As You Love Me“, the most recent banger on a long list of collaborations between the pair. A few months ago in July, Brett Miller joined me on Indie Pong’s Instagram Live for a special interview regarding a previous project (see interview here) and today I am excited to share an interview with Brett Miller and Brainheart (Roi).
How did you two come into existence with each other and decide to start working together?
BrettMiller: We met over Instagram. Roi messaged over summer of 2020 and shared some of his latest unreleased music, and asked if I could write and record over them. I loved his style and sound and we agreed to start working together. In fact, the first track he shared that I wanted to write on would eventually be “Surface”, which we released in February 2021. After our first project, we made plans to create more music and set a goal to release an EP containing all of our work. That EP is set to release in early 2022.
Brett, we learned a lot about you and your musical variety and your Floridian roots earlier this year when you did a live interview with me. Brainheart, can you tell us more about yourself and your background?
Brainheart : I am an independent music producer, songwriter, and DJ from Israel. Over the years, I struggled severely in the school system and felt that I was wasting my time. My first introduction to music was through playing piano at the age of 15. Music started out as a way to distract myself from struggles at school, but it quickly became much more than that. Today, unbound by genres I want to make a lasting impact and be an inspiration for many generations to come.
How does your partnership work together, especially considering the physical distance? Do you have creative brainstorms virtually, or do you send work back and forth to each other?
BrettMiller: That’s a great question. There’s a bit of a challenge to it, but over time, we’ve gotten very fluid with how we make music. having never met each other in person. We both play different roles for each song we make. Brainheart produces, composes, and engineers the tracks, and I handle writing the lyrics and vocal melodies, and recording my vocals, harmonies, etc, with some involvement on piano for certain songs. It’s a partnership that focuses on each of our strengths as music makers. So, to answer your question, it’s the latter. We send things back and forth to each other, while also having facetimes to go over ideas and notes…which we’re doing right now as we answer these questions. This collaboration is totally made possible by Facebook messenger, WeTransfer, and Distrokid. (Not sponsored)
What was the inspiration for the latest song “As Long As You Love Me”?
Brainheart: I heard the song “Hollywood’s Bleeding” by Post Malone and the production blew my mind. I was inspired to make a dark pop/hip hop song. Honestly I produced a full demo in 2 days and sent it to Brett. He loved it and started to write a story over the production.
BrettMiller: Yeah it was awesome! I knew I wanted to write something big over Roi’s haunting production. The production brought a whole new energy out of me, and it dared me to write something revealing to my personality. Some of it may have been dramatized, but I was inspired to stir up an emotion and thought process I’ve felt before in past relationships and even current ones. In an effort to leave enough to the imagination, suffice it to say, I’m always inspired to write about the dynamic between lovers, since it’s always so electric. In my experience, the highs can be euphoric, and the lows can be heartbreaking. I guess this song is just my way of mitigating risk to maximize reward.
What can you tell me about the music video? Where did you shoot it, what was the experience like, etc.? Is this something the both of you work on together?
BrettMiller: So, unfortunately, it’s a whole different obstacle when we want to make visual content together. We did a great job with our song “Wasted Years” with combining footage; me in the US, and Roi in Israel, but some visual ideas like these don’t always work with the song concept. “As Long As You Love Me” was one of those songs. I handled the scripting and directing of the music video with a small team and cast in Nashville, Tennessee. It was a very memorable experience, with just a healthy hint of stress to get things together on time. Gotta love working under pressure. Shoutout to the Nashville crew: Chaz, Chelsea, Greg, and Fiona (the star of the video).
The two of you have released quite a few songs together – have you or would you consider performing live together? How would that look?
Brainheart: Hell yeah, that would be great. I think it’s really important for collaborators to perform together. The connection between me and Brett can create something really special live. The electronic production + Brett’s voice could work really well at festivals.
Bret Miller: Absolutely! We’re obviously anticipating meeting each other one day soon. Roi really wants to come to the US, and I want to start performing worldwide. All this new music in 2021 is setting us up for some big shows in the future! Picture festival stages at Ultra Music Fest or Coachella, Brainheart behind the mix deck, and I’ll grab the mic to pump up the crowds to throw their hands up and sing these choruses with me! It’s gonna be epic!
Do you feel like it’s necessary to work in collaborations these days, or is your relationship more organic?
Brainheart: Honestly, in the beginning I thought we would create just 1 song together, but after we finished the first one and loved it, we decided to keep making music together and create a full EP. Our relationship has grown very organically. We work really well together, and we are very good friends. Our friendship definitely goes past music.
BrettMiller: There’s no right or wrong answer with making music. Some people do really well by themselves. I’ve experienced both: writing and releasing music independently, and with other creators. I do prefer the latter, since we can divide and conquer. I usually get better quality music out faster than if I did it alone. I’ve enjoyed working with Roi. He’s very driven and his talent level is growing fast. It’s been a very fruitful partnership and friendship. I definitely recommend artists team up with other creators, since you can make music better and faster, and forge strong relationships along the way.
How do you feel about the societal importance of social media tied to musicians’ careers?
Brainheart: It’s really tough. I believe that every artist wants to concentrate on making music. It takes a lot of time to build a fanbase and I believe that every artist should be very active on social media. Honestly, I hate being bothered with it, but it’s a great tool to make more fans and spread my music.
Who are your top 3 most played artists?
Brainheart: 1. Coldplay 2. Illenium 3. Ed Sheeran
Brett: A bit harder for me to list….for now: 1. Kevin Garrett 2. Incubus 3. Leon Bridges
What’s next on the Brett Miller/Brainheart agenda?
BrettMiller: Definitely our EP in early 2022. We are packaging together all our latest releases, with one more new track to release. This EP is the grand finale, and we have a lot of awesome content to surround it leading up. After that, we’ve got our sights set on performing the moment we get the chance to, given the state of the world. Either way, we’re staying patient, staying humble, staying grateful, and can’t wait to share more music and experiences with IndiePong and the world!
I know there has been some concern within the hallways of the venerated Indie Pong office about my lack of… contribution as of late.
Fear not though, because I’ve returned with my BEST write-up of the year: one in which I lace your Spotify with my top 21 songs of 2021.
This is a challenge every year, and I had to make some hard calls here…
No Between the Buried and Me representation? Nothing from Adele, or… Drake?
Drake will actually NEVER make my end of the year list, so let’s just shut that shit down right now.
In any case, after careful consideration, I’ve arrived with my list. There’s no order here, I’ve simply sequenced things below in a way that made for the most enjoyable listening experience. I’d encourage not shuffling.
1. Passage- Rafael Seyfried
Did I stumble across a more delightful winter anthem this year?
I don’t think so.
I spent many nights at my drafting table, writing or drawing to this piece of music, and I can’t compliment it highly enough.
Effortlessly beautiful, if not melancholy, there is both whimsy and hope creeping out from under the rug here— something that ultimately speaks to optimism, and a sincere belief that things will get better.
2. Sandman- ASAP Rocky
When it comes to ASAP Rocky rapping, I can take it or leave it. That said, I have no doubt in my mind that we will look back upon Clams Casino as one of the early 21st centuries great sonic architects, and here, his work is in very fine form.
What can be said about this beat that hasn’t been said already? Here, Rocky may well have been so in awe of the production, that he blessed the track with the patented* “Get em Girls,”-era, Cam’Ron Harlem flow.
3. Lord I Need You- Kanye West
Truthfully, there are four or five cuts from Donda that could have graced this spot, but as the song’s last 40-some odd seconds rank amongst the greatest thing Kanye has ever given us, I think it needs to be this one.
The closing section of this tune reveals Kanye at perhaps his most vulnerable? Bringing nuanced, delicate communication to life in a song, is a tricky thing to do well, and Kanye’s note choices, combined with his delivery make for an incredible masterful statement.
This is heartfelt shit.
4. Pyrocene- Genghis Tron
Man, this is just like the best thing that’s ever come down the pipe.
Apparently, non-electronic drums are new to the proceedings for Genghis Tron, and the way in which they situate themselves amongst an army of synthesizers is nothing short of glorious.
Truth be told, I’ve been afraid to listen to anything else from this album because this song is so damn good. I know I should, and I will soon, but I’m fearful that the other songs will fall short of this tune’s brilliance.
5. GERONIMO- Trippie Redd and Travis Barker featuring Chino Moreno
I believe my brother might have initially refused to listen to this on principle, due to Trippie Redd’s involvement. I’m hoping he eventually relented, but this is an A-1 slice of widescreen, shoegaze bliss.
Can you hear all of my favorite colors from a desert sunset?
There’s pink, off-brand orange, deep purple, blue blue, ore, sand, and a flash of white.
If this song was embalming fluid, I’m trying to smoke, and that’s probably the nicest thing I can say about a piece of music.
6. Sad Mezcalita- Xiu Xiu & Sharon Van Etten
I feel like this is the soundtrack that wasn’t for one of Gomez and Morticia’s tango dance routines circa the 1990s Adams Family movies.
You can hear it, can’t you?
This is both spooky, and gorgeous. It’s a perplexing piece, taking into consideration the specifics of its switches, but I’ll be damned if it’s not a hypnotic, sublime piece of music.
7. Xiu- Yu Su
Me and Mates have been cool in 2021, after some beef involving— uh… Timber Ridge?
Look, I still don’t know what a Timber Ridge is. Sounds like all the trees got cut down to line the pockets of some fat cats.
Strange, considering the school didn’t even have a locker room?
Like really? The board couldn’t pony up for that?
Perhaps that’s what led to the Bessie Rhoads rebrand?
In any case, Mates put me on to this song, and it’s a monster.
In our conversation, he said it was an early song of the year contender, and it’s on this list for that reason.
Do you need the greatest song in existence for your next kitchen dance party?
Look no further, because this is it.
8. Marie- Lost Horizons featuring Marissa Nadler
No disrespect to the blonde-haired women (actually, all the disrespect to the blonde-haired women, cuz you all keep losing 😂😂) but dark-haired songstresses RULED THE ROOST this year, with Ms. Marissa Nadler and Ms. Chelsea Wolfe leading the pack, for the spooky summoning ritual set.
If you put this on Cocteau Twin’s, “Treasure,” back in 1984, it wouldn’t be out of place.
It’s THAT GOOD.
And this is not to say that Ms. Nadler seeks to emulate Ms. Fraser either. She simply understands the lane in which she’s cruising, and brings the most glorious of aspects of her ethereal voice to this: the perfect soundtrack for a nostalgic morning walk along a foggy beach.
9. Happy Birthday- Hospital Bracelet
This song has some SWAG and some MATH.
That might sound weird, because math can’t (or shouldn’t?) factor into swag, but that’s the best I have.
There’s probably a time signature in here that I can’t count, but there’s also some LEAN behind the drum kit, and some DOOM in those power chords.
This song changes up on a dime, and it’s all the more delightful for it. I hear shades of The Beths, and also Sleepy Sun, wrapped up in something that’s unique and fully comfortable being it’s own thing.
I can’t wait to dig into further into this band’s discography.
10. Straight Lines- VOLA
Folks, sometimes the Youtube algorithm throws you some bullshit.
But sometimes, it blesses you with a JEWEL.
This is an example of the latter.
A djent-y opening gives way to a key-change, proggy grandeur, and a MEAN, MEAN synth solo from this band who I’d heard nothing of until just a few short months ago.
It’s very rare that I have an, “oh, wow,” moment the first time I hear a song, but when that first chorus drops in here, I about lost it.
I can’t recommend this highly enough. Listen to it loud, and listen to it often.
11. Lonely- Sofia Valdes
I believe it was Karl who put me on to this one, so thank you Karl.
It’s not easy to make delicate sound effortless, but here, Ms. Valdes does so.
There’s a warmth about this song that makes me wonder about where it was recorded. If there was a fireplace crackling in a dimmed room, accented by saturated earth tones as Ms. Valdes sang, I wouldn’t be surprised.
There’s a nostalgia about this song that I appreciate as well. I’m not sure where that comes from, but it almost makes you long for a very particular loneliness one might encounter in the winter— something with a light at the end of the tunnel, that will arrive with spring.
In any instance, this is wonderful.
12. Easy- Pale Waves
THE Interlude/breakdown of 2021?
Found within the confines of this song.
From 2:06 to 2:16, we are treated to one of the year’s flat out MASTERSTROKES. A song that has previously been marked by its candy-coated bombast is stripped down to simply guitar and voice, recalling every great thing about the summer of 1999 that you’d forgotten until now.
You can literally HEAR the fireflies, vividly recall how gangster the final lightsaber fight in Episode I was, the specifics of playing Final Fight on the TV in your Cedar Point hotel room, AND…
Well, the list would get too long.
To be clear, this is just a great pop song too, but man— that ten-second stretch?
13. Jitterbug Perfume- Sam Birchall
At 34, I find it more and more unlikely that anyone’s guitar playing is going to really blow me out of the water because— I’ve just heard it all at this point?
For the most part, yes, but then a player like Sam Birchall comes along, and flips everything on his head.
In my listening experience, devastating technical proficiency, unfettered expression, and pure joy are a tri-pronged unicorn: it’s uncommon that you’ll find all three within a lead player’s lines.
You can probably have two of them working for you if you’re really good, and most of people get by on one, or, perhaps, one and a half.
Mr. Birchall hits the hat trick though, managing to somehow fuse bluegrass, post-djent (did I just make that a thing?) jazz, and math into a blinding, beautiful concoction that’s 100 percent his.
His sense of melody is wildly adventurous, and the composition here has life that’s uncommon within such technically dazzling music.
This was one of my favorite things that I just happened to stumble across this year. I can’t wait to hear what he does next.
14. Crimson Stone- Converge & Chelsea Wolfe
Y’all— when this song explodes, it BLOWS UP.
The march to 3:58 is a murky, eerie trek in which Ms. Wolfe’s voice is in tip-top shape, with her collaborator Stephen Brodsky more than up to the task of both supporting, and responding to her words.
When Jacob Bannon enters the mix though, his howls offer the perfect launching pad for perhaps the most haunting vocal harmonies of the year, as Wolfe and Brodsky elaborate on his shouted statement(s).
This song is six minutes and 47 seconds long, and there’s a part of me that wants the whole song to encompass what we get from 3:58-4:45.
I fully expect Ms. Wolfe is at least a sorceress part-time, and she’s found some very able-bodied collaborators in the legendary Converge.
As this comes from an album called “Bloodmoon: I,” I’m very anxiously awaiting what comes next from these folks.
15. X- Bicep featuring Clara La San
As I noted earlier in the year, I feel like this song has finally answered a long burning question of mine: “What might it have sounded like if Autechre continued forging the sound they established on, “Garbage,” and, “Tri Repetae,” as opposed to discarding it?”
The answer is, perfection, and this song can’t get enough spins.
16. Outside (Better Days)- MO3 and OG Bobby Billions
MO3 was tragically, murdered in late 2020, so this piece of music is all the more chilling and sorrowful in light of that.
Perhaps the most startling and powerful part of the song comes in the form of a short saxophone solo that closes the song out. Haunting and pleading, it leaves you feeling shaken, after the final note sounds.
17. Ritchie Sacramento- Mogwai
This was another tough one, because there are four or five other songs on this album that could have also made the cut, but we’re going with Ritchie.
Mates is the reason I gave this one a second chance, actually. When I first heard it, I didn’t really think much of it. Upon further listens though, I became more and more enamored with the fact that it was able to split the difference between sounding crystalline and warm with such little effort, to say nothing of the bulldozer bassline that pops up in the chorus.
Vocals are not a regularly occurrence in the band’s music, and here, they’re very, very, strong. It’s not the happiest piece of music perhaps, but there’s a particular kind of peace that I feel while listening to it, and I appreciate that.
18. Skyfall- SION
I’ll admit, I was skeptical of this collaboration, when I first heard about it.
A quote-unquote, “YouTube musician,” partnering with one of the greatest vocalists across ANY genre, for the last 20 years?
I just didn’t know.
Needless to say, when I heard the first single, I was sold hook, line, and sinker.
Jared Dines has done a tremendous job with the music on this album, managing to call to Jones-era Killswitch, while keeping things fresh within the formula.
And there is a formula— the verses tend to be rugged and raw, giving way to an explosion in the chorus that encompasses everything great about a 1,000,000 gigawatt sunburst. It works for the entirety of the album, and I’m here for it.
Jones voice is arguably at its most raw, and devastatingly beautiful here, and while pretty much any song from this album could have made the list, I think this one deserves a spot the most.
I’ll be playing this album well into next year, and I’m glad I gave it a chance.
19. Save Your Tears (Remix)- The Weeknd & Ariana Grande
I can’t stand the Weeknd, but here, he has Mrs. Grande in tow, so it’s all good. She’s hitting some of the best songbird notes of her career, and coming with some gorgeous vocal harmonies, so I’m all in.
20. Traitor- Olivia Rodrigo
I’ll admit, I was (wrongly) clowning this when I first heard about it.
One of my cousins who’s flag is planted firmly within camp Gen Z was breaking down this album, and I just couldn’t take the idea seriously.
An 18-year old, making a thoughtful, well-put-together album about a failed relationship?
I had JOKES, but as it turns out, the joke was on me, because this is a masterful piece of work.
What Ms. Rodrigo sings about on here is likely, universal. We all have probably had an ex who moved on a little too quick for our liking after the breakup, and there’s a very particular kind of pain and distrust that pops up, when it happens.
Ms. Rodrigo comes across as truthful and sincere here, and her performance left me feeling humbled.
I’m very much looking forward to seeing what she does next.
21. Mombasa- Deafheaven
Closing out the playlist with what may well be the best song Deafheaven ever releases?
It’s the only way to go.
Found within here are some of the most beautiful vocal melodies and harmonies of 2021. The song’s bridge, one that leads to the catharsis of SCORCHED EARTH and blast beats, has no business being as beautiful as it is.
It’s something that leads you to believe all is safe, beautiful, and warm, before yanking the rug out from under you, and plunging you headfirst towards the planet’s molten core.
And the lyrics, when Mr. George Clarke finally begins to scream?
Worthy of a reflective essay penned by anyone who dedicated themselves to pursuing a creatives life during their 20s, I think:
Where they can’t let you down,
Where you can’t fail them now,”
This song is a masterful movement, and I’m truly not sure if the band can eclipse what they’ve done here.
When the decade ends, this will most certainly be in the conversation for the top 10, and I’m looking forward to continuing to appreciate its brilliance.
So, I’m flying out of Chicago to LA to spend thanksgiving with the girlf and her family. I got to the airport three hours early because I’m a historically punctual and anxious person.
With my extra time, I did what any responsible traveler should. I paid a visit to my safe space: Terminal 3’s Chili’s Margarita Bar.
The world can be a scary and mean place (see Cassie unleashing her bevy of burner accounts on me). So, the slightly sticky embrace of an airport Chili’s booth was exactly what I needed to make things right.
Then out of NOWHERE. A murder most fowl. Metaphorically of course.
The man sitting at the booth facing me was thumbing through his menu. Suddenly, he becomes a board, as excitement washes over his body. A Yelp, a slight shimmy of the shoulders. Pumping his fist, he whispers, “Heck yes! Breakfast tacos!!” We make eye contact. I give him a nod.
My boy, Ted, I assume, is about to have himself a great start to his day. As Ted cranes his neck the doors to the kitchen slam against the wall. His eyes widen in anticipation of a pre-flight breakfast fiesta. Without warning, his features harden and a frown creases his lips.
“That’s not what I ordered” Teddy grumbles
“I ordered tacos” T
“And this is aaaa (lowers glasses and sarcastically inspects the plate) two egg breakfast. Scrambled.” W
“Well… can I have my tacos?” T
“Okay” T (accepts defeat, sadly eats a two egg breakfast).
Poor Ted. That’s probably it for him. One can only assume he has flushed all of his personal items and has begun a working manifesto. Opening line, “The world is a two egged breakfast of shit and I must cleans it of its sins”
Anyways, let’s talk some music. I decided since it’s been a while I would give you a bit of LONG FORMAT oooo.
Album: “Everything” by Bnny
New music from one of my top two bunny themed Chicago indie bands! Yay for me!! Bnny released this full length album on Fire Talk records (Home of a few other Chicago bands, including Dehd) towards the end of August.
Bnny’s stuff tends to lean a bit slower and subdued, which is great. But at times I began to regard Bnny as a bit of a one trick pony. As a proud one trick pony myself, I did not think this is a bad thing. Consistency is important in life. However, the album Everything definitely shows that I’m a wrong asshole.
Some notable upbeat and up-pace songs from this album are: August, Promises, and Take That Back. I really like all these songs, but am slightly partial to Take That Back. It’s got a little edge and angst to it. It has that sharp guitar sound that reminds me a bit of Jason Balla’s pre-Dehd project, NeHi. It is decidedly different from most of the Bnny tracks I’ve heard coming into this. Fuck consistency let’s sow chaos.
Don’t worry, my friends with seasonal depression. There’s plenty of slow moody shit on here too. We can all be friends. Some of my favorites are: Ambulance, Not Even You, Blind, and Dreaming. If you’re great at something why change the formula. And, Bnny is the 3x regional champion in slowed down space cowboy ballads. Keep on keeping on, Bnny
Single: “Pain Without a Touch” by Sweeping Promises
This is Sweeping Promises first release since their debut album: Hunger for a Way Out. This album received some pretty high acclaim, considering the fact that Sweeping Promises weren’t able to tour at all during the pandemic.
This band is cool to me for a few reasons.
First, their whole first album was recorded on a single microphone and mixed in mono. This makes for a sound that I can legally describe as “artisanal”. I can feel my mustache slowly curl at the tips in hipster agreement. “Psh, other bands just don’t get it”. I mutter to myself as I polish leather that I tanned, because this is how you art, damnit.
A second reason they are cool to me is because they sound like robot world New Order. Which I am super in to.
This new single just builds great continuity with their first album. It’s upbeat, slightly new wave, with a synth breakdown lurking around the corner with bad intentions. If this song doesn’t make you want to dance then we can’t be friends because you’re uptight and boring. I just can’t be bringing that energy into 2022. Thanks.
Pardon our lengthy delay on this column. Both George and I got incredibly busy over the last few months but we’re back just in time for the holiday week. We decided to cover one album and one song each. George covered Mastodon’s new album and one song from the recently released Iron Maiden album. I covered Between the Buried and Me’s Colors 2 and one song from Dream Theater’s latest album. Anyhow, get that last minute turkey/Tofu Turkey shopping done and settle in for a few reviews from us.
Mastodon: Hushed and Grim
GF: A new Mastodon release is always something that I look forward to.
Have their last three albums measured up to their first three? Perhaps not, but at the same time, even those have tended to get at least a solid few weeks of constant listening from me… sometimes more.
While a bit too long and slightly unfocused, I thought, “The Hunter,” had some magnificent music on it— including one or two of the band’s best songs. “Once More Round the Sun,” was pretty underrated for my money, and perhaps the album where they figured out that they could write arena-worthy hooks with the best of them. “Emperor of Sand,” was something that I enjoyed quite a bit too. The quieter moments almost outshone some of the heavier stuff, and Brent Hinds continued to solidify his status as modern day metal’s most exciting soloist.
Those releases bring us to today, with, “Hushed and Grim,” an album that has rightly been hailed as their best work since, “Crack the Skye.”
This is a long album, but it goes down easy. Clocking in at just under 90 minutes, I feel like it touches on just about everything the band has done, and done well, over the course of their career.
While Scott Kelly’s once mandatory guest slot is dearly missed here, new collaborators pop in to fill the void, chief amongst them young country phenom Marcus King, and OG metal titan Kim Thayil.
In both cases, these gentlemen provide some rather brilliant lead guitar work, with the former injecting some down-home flavor into the Brent Hinds-led, “The Beast,” and the latter, adding a patented sonic exorcism, to “Had it all.”
As this album is so long, there are AMPLE opportunities for solos, and Brent Hinds plays like a man possessed all throughout the album. His uncanny, one-of-a-kind, fretboard slip-and-slide routine is still unlike anything practiced by his contemporaries. Here, he’s as good as he’s ever been, turning in career-best performances on songs like, “More Than I Could Chew,” and the album’s final three songs, most notably, closer, “Gigantium.”
Though the album has its more uptempo numbers, its overriding vibe is heavy, and sorrowful. A tribute to late band manager Nick John, these are sad songs reflecting on loss: songs that sound most honest when they’re crawling as opposed to running. The melancholy found on the slower numbers is beautiful in its own particular way, and the half-time numbers allow Mr. Hinds his best opportunities to flay his guitar alive.
While Hinds is certainly the star of the show here, it’s a bit of a bummer that he only has a few vocal turns on the album. Mastodon has become the Brann Dailor and Troy Sanders show in the singing department, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, I do miss his voice. Dailor in particular is more than happy to pick up the slack, and his singing only continues to improve. If he’s not the best singer in the group at this point, he’s just behind Hinds.
With its greyscale cover art, save for a spare hit of gold, “Hushed and Grim,” is not only an astonishing piece of metal, but the perfect soundtrack for the bleak skies that we experience here in the midwest, during the fall. If you’re feeling down, this is an album that invites you to lean into your feelings, and be at peace with them.
Where the band goes from here, I’m not quite sure, but I feel as though they have certainly come upon a new stretch of their path. I’m very excited to hear what’s next, and I’m very thankful for the fact that they were able to channel their grief into such a tremendous piece of art.
Iron Maiden – The Parchment
GF: I feel like sometime around 2006, Iron Maiden very comfortably glided into what I’ll call mid-tempo Maiden mode.
This might sound like a knock, but it’s not. Save for the opener, “Different World,” their album, “A Matter of Life and Death,” was almost exclusively, full of numbers that stopped just shy of the band’s trademark gallop.
The frantic speed under which the band used to operate had been replaced. Here, in its stead, was epic proggy grandeur. It was a cool transition that 100% worked– it allowed the band to continue to make thoughtful and exciting music at a point in their career where most folks have run out of gas.
The music found on their most recent album, “Senjutsu,” cruises very comfortably in the new lane that the band carved out for themselves 15 years ago. These are long songs… knotty songs… that feature ample fireworks from the band. Of particular note, is the playing that we’re treated to, courtesy of Janick Gers, and Nicko McBrain, who steal the show.
While it’s ludicrous to expect men in their late 60s to go at things with the fury that was on display for songs like, “Gangland,” “Aces High,” or, “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner,” I did find myself wanting to hear the band mount up just ONE more time on the album, and I feel like they got as close as they’re going to get during the grand finale of, “The Parchment.”
The song has three guitar solo sections. The best of course is the final one, and the proceedings kick off at the 9:52 mark. After a particularly epic, and proggy climb to the top of the mountain, (aided by a motif that recalls the verse riff of, “Hallowed be Thy Name,”) the band is finally ready to plant their flag, and show everyone what the business is.
As time has gone on, it’s become a bit harder for me to discern Dave Murray and Adrian Smith’s leads, so until we’re graced with a live version of this, I’m not gonna know who plays the second solo (but it’s probably Murray). That said, I think we can all safely say that it’s Mr. Gers who fires the first shot across the bow in the song’s final solo section.
And wow-wee, what a shot it is.
In the past, I’ve seen mumblings criticising his soloing within the band, as folks say it sounds a lot like Rainbow-era Ritchie Blackmore. I don’t think that’s necessarily unfair, but in recording this, he’s proven that he’s transcended.
Even Ritchie wasn’t cooking this kind of shit.
Here, rampant whammy bar abuse, and speedy runs galore, feel like a shotgun blast to the head, as Gers’ tone is absolutely WHITE HOT. It sounds like perhaps he’s playing through a cocked wah, but whatever it is, he’s rolling out the most vicious shit of his life. At its most frantic, it sounds like he’s trying as best as he can, to literally disembowel his guitar.
It recalls Pete Cosey, when he played the Osaka afternoon show, back in 1975– fully diabolical.
Against a boosted tempo, and killer rhythm work from the rest of the band (check Nicko McBrain’s Bill Bruford-indebted cymbal work) it might be his most picture-frameable moment as a soloist within the band E-V-E-R.
The solo that follows is more tempered, and reminds me of the spaced-out bliss that we were treated to on “Powerslave.” It’s classic Maiden, and the ideal piece of punctuation for the longest (and for my money) most epic cut on the album.
Between the Buried and Me – Colors 2
BH: I recently got back from seeing the band in my first concert since the Before Times and boy did they put on a show. While the setlist mostly focused on celebrating The Great Misdirect record and their 21 years of being a band, they’re clearly excited about the new record. And they absolutely should be. This may very well be the Paddington 2, T2, Empire Strikes Back-all rolled into one-best Sequel we could have possibly been lucky enough to receive.
While it’s somehow not the only sequel record of the year (I’m looking at you The Night Flight Orchestra), Colors 2 has been easily one of the most anticipated albums of 2021. Any time Between the Buried and Me put out a new record, it’s reason for excitement but Colors 2?? Colors is not only one of the bands best efforts but also one of the defining prog metal albums of all time.
“Monochrome” starts off the album in a somewhat traditional manner for the band (and I don’t mean that in a bad way at all). A soft key-laden intro that eventually gives way to the overall heavier direction this album will go in. It’s a really nice lead-in to one of my favorite tracks on the album, “The Double Helix of Extinction”. Tommy’s vocals are as harsh as ever and then how about that break around the two minute mark with the basketball game sound fx, mixed with some great percussion work from Blake. Also, while I wouldn’t normally be into a band shouting their name on a song, it works really well in this instance. It feels like a perfect live song too. Next up is the single, “Revolution in Limbo”, which was really the track that made me feel most confident about a Colors sequel pre-release. It reminds me of elements from “Sun of Nothing” from the OG Colors but is really its own thing.
The other single, “Fix the Error”, we covered a bit here but I’ll just say it has only grown on me further since then, particularly as the band played it live. Blake nailed the solo section all by himself and it was glorious. “Never Seen/Future Shock” is one of the two longest songs on the record but it glides by for me. There’s also an Affinity era Haken section here in the first four minutes that made me super amped. Paul’s guitar work on this song is really impeccable. I would say this album is loaded with memorable riffs and licks but really dig everything he does on this particular track. Oh and then there’s the incredibly beautiful final two minutes of the song that remind me of sections from the Alaska era. “Stare Into the Abyss” feels like a transitional song leading into the back half of the album but it certainly makes an impact with a catchy chorus and a brutal final minute. “Prehistory” AKA the song with Crash Bandicoot SFX! I love this track and it pairs really nicely with the following track “Bad Habits”. This song is another favorite and has a great callback to “Ants of the Sky” from Colors I both lyrically and in the structure of the song itself. Tommy once again delivers great vocal lines throughout this track. Also at the five minute point of the song, there’s a really top-tier bit of musicianship with everyone that takes us through to the final minutes of the song.
I’m not sure why “The Future is Behind Us” became initially controversial between fans but for my money it’s a definite favorite song here. The 80’s vibes here kick so much ass. The keys mixed with Tommy’s vocals and chorus is so insanely good. Plus any song with a Ferris Bueller reference gets major props from me. “Turbulent” feels a bit like a second act to “The Future is Behind Us” and has Blake go properly mad on his kit in the second half. “Sfumato” is a one minute track that primarily sets us up for the finale similar to what “Viridian” did for “White Walls” on Colors I.
The final song on Colors 2, “Human is Hell (Another One With Love)” doesn’t attempt to be “White Walls” part two. Instead it sets its own path of monstrous destruction with a fifteen minute runtime that never overstays its welcome.
I’ve got to say Colors 2 is one of my favorite albums this year and this may be one of the best albums the band has done to date.
Dream Theater – Answering the Call
BH: I thought about reviewing the entire new Dream Theater album as it’s really good (and who knows maybe I still will) but in the meantime, highlighting one of my favorite cuts on it entitled Answering the Call.
Before I jump into it though, I want to point out that this is the fifth album since Portnoy left the band and fifteenth overall. It’s impressive that the band keeps creating innovative new music and pushing their boundaries. It’s not easy losing such a key member of the band and fortunately at this point, drummer Mike Mangini has really gelled with the group. He’s a phenomenal player anyhow but between this album and their previous, Distance Over Time, he’s really come into his own with the virtuoso musicians in the band.
Anyhow, this song is one hell of a banger and actually has some Octavarium vibes on it which as a long time fan, is greatly appreciated. That opening riff is super catchy, the chorus is strong and the outro (and build to it) might be one of the strongest moments in a DT song in some time. It reminds me of a Gojira outro and is really heavy.
When I gave the new album its first spin, I was immediately drawn to this track. It’s classic DT through and through. I also noticed that not only with this song but the majority of the album, the band is doing a great job of balancing the technicality with accessibility.
Jordan’s keys here are mostly subtle layers and work nicely alongside Petrucci’s riffs. Also, Myung is really crushing it. I really dig his interplay with Petrucci on the previously mentioned outro.
For whatever reason, part of the fanbase has felt Labrie is the weak point with the band but quite honestly Dream Theater wouldn’t be the same without him. He has a knack for catchy vocal lines and he still sounds top-notch. Particularly on this track he’s really on his game.
Dream Theater remains one of the most important bands in the prog space and Answering the Call further proves this is the case.
We were at George’s brother’s wedding trying on our tuxes, and “Heroes” by David Bowie started playing. Daw turned to me and said “U2 actually has some good songs.” I looked back in disbelief, it seemed too good to be true.
I put together two different playlists for the occasion. One was a playlist for the bachelor party:
Which was just straight hitters, all of George’s brother Jack’s favorite songs, from Creed to Fishmans. I was then asked to put together a playlist for the pre-wedding festivities, but with the important little nugget of information that the bride’s dad would be joining us. My first thought was him calling off the wedding upon hearing “Fuckin Around” by 100s and realizing that Jack is a certified freak, so I made some edits (a lot of edits) and it left us with a lot of classic rock and innocuous indie pop songs.
So I look back at Daw and asked “Do you think this is by U2” and he said “Isn’t it?”… what an idiot. Just an absolute fool. Truly a shameful moment for Daw that is now immortalized in writing on the greatest indie music blog on the planet.
Also it’s Daw’s birthday today, happy birthday Daw!
We are now officially in the month of October. Spooky season is upon us. I, Indipong’s resident Scorpio, take this time of the year relatively seriously. To celebrate the season we set out some tasteful halloween decorations with plenty of skeletons soon to follow. I even took it upon myself to make a little halloween playlist.
I’m telling you, this playlist has it all. It runs the gambit of objectively sinister surf rock, dark and moody new wave, halloween classics a la the Misfits and Screamin Jay Hawkins. I even threw the most spooky song of all time in that sucker: Rock Lobster by the B52s. You’re welcome.
I mean give it a listen, it’s the perfect spooky playlist:
Anyways, I needed something to cheer myself up. So, I was pumped to hear that a band that Mates, Cassie and myself LOVE, Wet Leg, had just released a new single!
This song is Discotheque Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I’m into it. Driving bass lines and clap tracks are pretty cool to me.
Wet Leg sticks with what made “Chaise Longue” such an absolute amazing song. Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers hit us with a wall of distortion-laden guitar offset by sped up drum licks and strong armed baselines. If it works it works, and damnit it works.
Pair all of that jargon with some of the most sexual lyrics this side of the 80’s and we have ourselves something very very special.
I’ve been MIA for a bit, I almost feel like I’ve been speed dating around with music this summer, partially due to absolutely SMASHING IT in the Song of Summer Series: Bangers Only playlist competition we’ve been running. The Drake v Kanye album sitch got me back into the album groove and I finally decided to settle down and commit to a listening session with PawPaw Rod.
He kicked off A PawPaw Rod EP last year with single “HIT EM WHERE IT HURTS” and has since released bangers “Glass House” and “Thin Lines”. Today’s EP release brough “Lemonhaze”. Honestly, if you haven’t listened to HEWIH or Glass House WTF are you doing with your days?!
LET’S GET INTO ITTTTT
I’m all about tunes you can groove to on a rooftop sans clothes, and I feel like PawPaw Rod is the best way to close out the summer. Grab a joint, flower, drink, or any vice of choice and start letting those seaweed arms flow.
Hailing from Oklahoma, PawPaw Rod has a pretty solid following, but he is definitely one of those artists who you either know and love or have no clue who he is. After today’s EP release, I imagine his numbers will soon see a spike as Spotify placed him on the cover of Pollen – no big thang!
We’re just starting to get a taste of what he has to offer, and I can’t wait to what else dear ol’ PawPaw will bring to the table.
It’s great to see you all again. As you may remember I have been repeatedly slandered; catching it from all sides. As a proud and active union member, I did what I had to do. I went on strike.
I had one demand: the respect of my superiors for my outstanding picks for the Song of Summer Series. It was and is a BIG DEAL.
My strike consisted of wearing a lot of sleeveless shirts to engage my inner power, repeatedly texting George, “Eat shit, Scab”, and most of all I listened to a lot of good new music and I told absolutely NO ONE.
Mates and Classy Cassie held their line. Not once was I texted to return to work. On a bachelor party with Mates I even attempted to mend fences and engage in good will negotiations in the spirit of matrimony and togetherness. Mates replied, “No way dude, you’re on strike! Lol that’s so random! I didn’t even notice.”
Hard ball. Didn’t have Mates pegged as an Art of the Deal man, but here we are.
In the end, I had to do what I had to do. Sometimes the strongest move you can make is exposing your belly and peeing in the air to signify complete subservience to the big dogs.
So, long story short, I’m back baby. Tail between my legs and covered in my own mess, but I’m back. Stronger than ever, people!
Let’s talk about some new tunes. In my opinion there is really only one way to come back. Gimme a Vienna Red Hot and throw some salty salty yellow mustard on there. We are heading to the Windy City pals.
Specifically, we are talking about two of my favorite artists out right now, Dehd (insert link to fancam) and Lala Lala.
Dehd has been slowly releasing remixes to their absolute BOP of an album, “Flower of Devotion”. Their most recent collab is just something special and I couldn’t contain it anymore.
This remix should be played in every single movie when the main character is walking away from their first love. Each heavy step is a punch of a piano key. The time just wasn’t right, and they were crushed. A crash of thunder and it begins raining as we slow pan to our dejected protagonist.
CUE THE F***KING LOOP PEDAL LALA LALA!
Ya know, when I first heard Dehd’s original rendition of Desire and I got to the bridge in the song where Emily Kempf repeats “You are my dream”. I thought to myself, “This is just so inefficient.” Apparently, Lala Lala agreed. And let me tell you, the looping and layering of this single mantra was such a wonderful touch. It brings texture and build through the song.
Anyways, enough of that sad boy shit. This is a dance album so dance people! I’m back, Dehd is back, and Lala Lala is serving (hot shit). I’m excited to again consistently blog. I’m here, bottom of the pack and HUNGRY.
Not only are these demos awesome, but this 18 minute visual album is a BLAST. We see Roksana dance suggestively while dressed as a bee on “Only Plants”, invent a new kind of currency, run for her life, party her ass off, and enjoy(?) an interesting afternoon on roller skates. By the end we are cathartically led to the conclusion of this short film’s essence- the end of the world.
An absolute rocketship of a debut from Los Angeles based Roksana, for whom the future seems bright.
From what I understand, there were limitations to the music in this visual album. The reason these were released as demos and not full songs was because they COULDN’T be, so the fact that Roksana pivoted and made this visual album with the help of “The Commune” in order to launch her career is impressively resilient and thoughtful.
My favorite track off of the album is the first one:
but they all hit.
I mean, just look at some of these screenshots from the same 18 minute visual album: