SONG OF SUMMER IS HERE

It’s time to bust out the flip flops and clean off the cooler that’s been on your porch for 9 months- summer is here! And the start of summer means the start of something else annual and highly anticipated:

THE INDIE PONG SONG OF SUMMER SERIES.

Last year Cassie won and none of us were happy for her. It was a close contest, but after 4 rounds of fan voting NomBe (Cassie’s pick) edged out Shelley FKA DRAM (my pick) to win the title of SONG OF THE SUMMER 2021.

For a little context, for the next few summer months the Indie Pong bloggers are going to be highlighting the songs of the summer on our summer playlist:

And then at the end of the summer we’re going to vote on what truly was the song of the summer. This is something we’re doing every summer, so blast that follow button to keep track.

I’m clearly winning this contest so far with these four absolute bangers:

‘Surprise Me’ – Mallrat

This album drops in 8 days and it’s bout to be the album of the year- quote me now. I haven’t been this excited for an album in a while, every one of the singles so far has been amazing.

‘Smile and Wave’ – Tomorrow Kids, Josh Dominguez

This song gives me the feels, so honest and excellent. You love to see it.

‘Something Ain’t Right’ – ZHR

This single from one of the dudes from Australia’s Northeast Party House is easily one of my favorites of the year already.

‘Tainted Love’ – Isaac Dunbar

What a pop banger.

And then some other Indie Pong bloggers have songs on the playlist or whatever idk.

Final picks from last year just for fun:

Mates – Clear winner
Classsy Cassie – Actual winner
Memo – Finalist, some good stuff on here.
Sunday Tuesday George – Stole Life is Like a Dice Game from me still mad
BPMHill – coming in hot with the headbangers

Daw – was on strike
Amber – was rooting for J Brekkie

Karl – known Willow enthusiast

May the games begin! Don’t forget to blast that follow button on the playlist for updates all summer. And also don’t forget to check our socials to send in your own songs of the summer or shit on ours.

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75 Best Songs of 2021

This year when you were waiting in line for vaccine shot, taking an Uber to a bar for the first time in a year, or killing time in between watching any of the following:

Joe Biden’s inauguration
The Tokyo Olympics
Giannis dominate the NBA
Tom Brady dominate the NFL (again)
The process of freeing Britney (we did it)
The fluctuating prices of crypto and NFTs
or Squid Game

You were probably listening to something. And it was probably Adele or Olivia Rodrigo. But a lot happened in music this year, including a robust year for indie music, the return of concerts, the first annual Indie Pong Song of Summer Competition, and me finally seeing Everclear live and absolutely losing my mind. You were listening to something, and when you look back and listen to it a few years from now it will always remind you of the year that we got our lives back. Here are my top 75 songs of 2021. Keep in mind that this is objective and definitive, and if you have a different opinion it’s probably wrong.

Playlist: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/76S58vvSbS5Z1MJrVIHotY?si=f3745224e00f452e

75. “Be Sweet” – Japanese Breakfast
74. “deja vu” – Olivia Rodrigo
73. “Eastside” – F.A.B.L.E., ‘Kechi, Sage P, Domerie
72. “Great Mass of Color” – Deafheaven
71. “HUH?” – Serena Isioma
70. “I Do This All The Time” – Self Esteem
69. “peacewise silence” – Ackerman
68. “ENTERTAINMENT” – SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE
67. “Txu Txu” – PPJ, Páula, Povoa, Jerge
66. “Never Been More Sure” – Royel Otis
65. “Name” – spill tab
64. “Come To Life” – Kanye West
63. “American tterroristt” – RXKNephew
62. “You Lose!” – Magdalena Bay
61. “Brand New” – TARYN
60. “All Grown Up” – Londo
59. “Take Off” – Prinze George
58. “Crying During Sex” – Carol Ades
57. “Surrender” – Tseba, PRICIE
56. “Heaven is a Pill” – thanks for coming
55. “Head Cheerleader” – Pom Pom Squad
54. “Velcro” – spill tab, Gus Dapperton
53. “telephone wires” – maxime.
52. “Gang Signs” – Freddie Gibbs, ScHoolboy Q
51. “Sister” – TSHA
50. “Give Me Your Love” – Girl Ray
49. “Hidden Qi 隐.气” – Mindy Meng Wang 王萌 and Tim Shiel
48. “Root Mean Square” – Summer Like the Season
47. “These Things Will Come To Be” – DJ Seinfeld
46. “Down On Your Luck” – SACHI
45. “Comerte Entera” – C. Tangana, Toquinho
44. “Basement” – Church Girls
43. “the angel of 8th ave.” – Gang of Youths
42. “La Perla” – Sofia Kourtesis
41. “Silk Chiffon” – MUNA, Phoebe Bridgers
40. “Swing of Things” – MAY-A, Powfu
39. “I Don’t Live Here Anymore” – The War On Drugs, Lucius
38. “Back To Oz” – Sufjan Stevens, Angelo De Augustine
37. “Hard Drive” – Cassandra Jenkins
36. “You Could Be” – Anz, George Riley
35. “Handsome Man” – Wednesday
34. “Mazda5” – MyKey, marinelli
33. “Rich & Famous” – Shelley FKA DRAM
32. “3 AM” – HAIM, Thundercat
31. “Welcome To The People (Baltra Remix)” – Jaded, Baltra
30. “Only for Tonight” – Pearl Charles
29. “spit it out” – Roksana
28. “Strawberry” – Doss
27. “Skyscrapers” – Nina Kraviz
26. “Bouncin” – Tinashe
25. “Enough” – Appleby
24. “Wake” – Big Scary
23. “Good Ones” – Charli XCX
22. “Jail 2” – Kanye West
21. “Little Things” – Big Thief
20. “Louisiana Jukebox” – Mad Gatsby
19. “Cold Blood” – Junior Varsity
18. “Go Outside” – Ratboys
17. “Payday” – Doja Cat, Young Thug
16. “Peaches” – Justin Bieber, Daniel Caesar, Giveon
15. “But She Loves You” – Merk
14. “We’ll Figure It Out” – Black Dresses
13. “ALL COPS ARE BASTARDS*” – BLACKSTARKIDS
12. “Xiu” – Yu Su
11. “The Mission” – Bakar
10. “He Gets Me So High” – beabadoobee
9. “Don’t Need You” – Genesis Owusu
8. “Breathe” – Lawrence Rothman, Caroline Rose
7. “Starstruck (Vegyn Remix)” – Years & Years, Vegyn
6. “THE DOOR IS CLOSING” – SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE
5. “She Likes To Get High” – Cry Baby
4. “object permanence” – Sydney Sprague, Danielle Durack
3. “The Beginning” – Magdalena Bay
2. “Show Up” – Samia
1. “Jackie” – Yves Tumor


Some notes:

68. “ENTERTAINMENT” – SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE

You have to listen to the whole song, I admit the beginning is… challenging. But the transition from chaos to catchy and light-hearted perfectly sets up one of the best albums of the year.

67. “Txu Txu” – PPJ, Páula, Povoa, Jerge

Love this track. I specifically wanted to single it out because my ACTUAL favorite track of 2021 was released in November of 2020, and it’s amazing:

26. “Bouncin”- Tinashe

Why does Tinashe never miss, ever?

27. “Skyscrapers” – Nina Kraviz

This one is really interesting to me, because Nina is basically the most badass techno DJ in the game. I never expected a pop song, and I certainly didn’t expect one so aggressively good.

25. “Enough” – Appleby

It was hard to choose only one of Appleby’s songs, there were a lot of contenders. This Chicago native is up next. Mark my words, up next.

16. & 17.”Peaches” and “Payday”

These songs are truly so, so good. Peaches was more or less an anthem of this year along with Kiss Me More, which is also a banger but didn’t quite make the list. Payday did though, well-deserved.

15. “But She Loves You” – Merk

This song is so cool. To me it’s the quintessential song of the year that demonstrates doing more with less. The sounds are so simple, but the way they crescendo together is brilliant. A top 15 spot was a no brainer.

13. “ALL COPS ARE BASTARDS*” – BLACKSTARKIDS

BSK are the best, and continue to steadily rise with groundbreaking sounds and just… energy. All the love.

11. “The Mission” – Bakar

I’m not here to die on the hill of that nepotism is a good thing, but this take on nepotism being an earned thing that we all aim to get for our kids is refreshing.

9. “Don’t Need You” – Genesis Owusu

Easily one of the best albums of the year.

5. “She Likes To Get High” – Cry Baby

How fun is this song? What a just absolute jam. Tickles the ol’ nostalgia bone.

4. “object permanence” – Sydney Sprague

This was my #1 most listened to song of the year on Spotify

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One thing I can say for sure about object permanence is that it has lasting power, times a million. I’ve listened to this song almost everyday for a year and it’s never gotten old once. The way a top 5 should be.

3. “The Beginning” – Magdalena Bay

This was album of the year for me, not close. I don’t know how they did it- Magdalena Bay somehow made an album that sounds like Rumours but done by Britney Spears. Every song sounds different, the melodies are amazing, it’s just a home run.

2. “Show Up” – Samia

According to Spotify Wrapped I’m a a Samia superfan so I guess you have to take it with a grain of salt but

SAMIA IS THE GREATEST ARTRISAT DISFJNSKDNFLKJSDF

Sorry I blacked out for a second, Samia has some chill tunes.

Also Big Wheel doesn’t make me cry nothing makes me cry:

1. “Jackie” – Yves Tumor

The thing with the best song of the year is that you just know. This song blows my mind every single time. Yves has also been making bangers for years. Keep being the coolest human being on the planet Yves, you’ve earned it.

BPMHILL’s Best Albums of 2021

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:

Best EP’s:

  1. Bodom After Midnight – “Paint the Sky with Blood”
  2. Cult of Luna – “The Raging River”
  3. Soen – “The Undiscovered Lotus”
  4. Enslaved – “Caravans to the Outer Worlds”
  5. Insomnium – “Argent Moon”

Best Live Albums:

  1. Ulver – “Hexahedron: Live at Henie Onstad Kunstsenter” & “Scary Muzak”
  2. The Pineapple Thief – “Nothing But the Truth”
  3. Enslaved – “Cinematic Tour 2020”
  4. Devin Townsend – “Galactic Quarantine”
  5. Paradise Lost – “At the Mill”

Best Vinyl Variants:

  1. Opeth – Blackwater Park 20th Anniversary & In Cauda Venenum Connoisseur Edition
  2. Esa Holopainen – Silver Lake
  3. Ulver – Vargnatt reissue
  4. Deafheaven – Infinite Granite
  5. White Ward – Love Exchange Failure reissue
  6. Freddy’s Nightmares OST
  7. The Ocean – Phanerozoic I & Phanerozoic II reissues
  8. Between the Buried & Me – Colors II, Come Ecliptic reissue, The Parallax II reissue
  9. Agalloch – Pale Folklore & Bloodbath – Resurrection Through Carnage reissues via Nesi Media
  10. The Dillinger Escape Plan – Ire Works & Miss Machine reissues

Best Studio Albums:

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.

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. 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.
  8. 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
  9. 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
  10. 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.
  11. Khemmis – “Deceiver”
  12. Vola – “Witness”
  13. Archspire – “Bleed the Future”
  14. Wolves in the Throne Room – “Primordial Arcana”
  15. Spiritbox – “Eternal Blue”
  16. Cynic – “Ascension Codes”
  17. Gojira – “Fortitude”
  18. Carcass – “Torn Arteries”
  19. Soen – “Imperial”
  20. Perturbator – “Lustful Sacraments”

An Interview with Brett Miller, Brainheart

A couple of weeks ago, artists Brett Miller and 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?

Brett Miller: 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?

Brett Miller: 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.

Brett Miller: 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?

Brett Miller: 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.

Brett Miller: 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.

Brett Miller: Ditto. 

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?

Brett Miller: 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!

Thanks so much – Brett & Roi

THE MOMENT YOU ALL HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR: Sunday Monday Tuesday George’s 21 Best Songs of 2021

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.

It’s wonderful.

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. 

Excelsior.

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?

I can.

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?

A monster.

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

Ooh, boy.

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:

“Travel now,

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.

2 + 2 Reviews: Thanksgiving Week Edition

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.  

Memo’s Monthly Favorites: July 2021

Hello everybody! Happy August! I hope you are all enjoying your summer so far. I am definitely enjoying my summer. Especially since a lot of great music has been dropping recently. Just like the weather, I’ve got some hot recommendations for you all today. Let’s jump into the honorable mentions.

Song Honorable Mentions:

99 Neighbors – Live a Little: I can’t believe I just discovered 99 Neighbors this past month. I’ve been sleeping on their music for way too long. 99 Neighbors is a rap group from Vermont. They remind me of both BROCKHAMPTON and Injury Reserve. On “Live a Little”, they come out the gates with a lot of charisma. Each member gave some cool verses. I love the jazzy instrumental. This track is a lot of fun. I will definitely be excited for any new music they make in the future.

Kevin Abstract – SLUGGER (feat. $NOT & slowthai): BROCKHAMPTON member, Kevin Abstract, is teasing his upcoming album with a total fucking banger. This track is the definition of “chaotic”. I love the cluttered instrumental. Kevin starts things off with a verse filled with a lot of energy and personality. $NOT sounds so badass during his verse. Slowthai went off. His different vocal inflections were insane. This track is FIRE! I can’t wait for Kevin’s new album.

Little Simz – I Love You, I Hate You: Little Simz keeps continuing her amazing single streak leading up to her new album. Just like “Introvert”, this track has a grand instrumental. The instrumental sounds so classy. Somehow, it still doesn’t outshine Little Simz pen game. She is very vulnerable on this track. I don’t want to spoil it, but man this shit is depressing. The amount of emotion in her words gives me goosebumps. This is a must-listen!

Vince Staples – ARE YOU WITH THAT?: Although I wasn’t in love with Vince Staples newest album, I did love this single from the album. I don’t know how he did it. Vince somehow was able to make a very catchy song while rapping about the horrors of street life. The beat, from Kenny Beats, is very moody. Vince raps in a nonchalant manner. On paper, a song like this shouldn’t be so addicting, but it is.

EP Honorable Mentions:

Yves Tumor – The Asymptotical World EP: Last year Yves Tumor dropped one of the best albums of the year. This year Yves dropped one of the best EP’s of the year. I like how breezy and catchy the songs can be on this art-rock EP. Yves vocals are killer. They are an amazing performer. I am sure their concerts are insane. Although I think Yves deserves to rest, I am glad they are spoiling us with more music. Thank you Yves Tumor!

Skepta – All In: UK rapper, Skepta, just recently dropped a tiny EP filled with bangers. I like how diverse this EP is. On one track, Skepta is rapping his ass off on a trap beat. On another track, he does a good spanish cut with J Balvin. As someone who doesn’t listen to Skepta often, I am both surprised and impressed with his ability to fit into a variety of musical styles. This EP isn’t anything crazy, but it is a good time. 

Albums Honorable Mentions:

SAULT – Nine: SAULT is back once again with another quality project. Not a lot of bands or artists can drop several good albums in a short time span like SAULT. Even though they make albums in a short time span, every album has well-crafted instrumentation. Each album has great lyrics. They cover several important topics on this album. This is a beautiful neo-soul album. It definitely deserves a listen.

IDK – USEE4YOURSELF: I was very hyped for this album. Although it didn’t meet my expectations, this album has a lot of highlights. “Shoot My Shot” with Offset is one of my favorite bangers of the year. “Hey Auntie”, with legend Slick Rick, is a vulnerable track with a heart-wrenching performance from IDK. The tracklist is diverse with the beats diving into several different hip hop subgenres. Even the features are pretty diverse. IDK got Young Thug, MF DOOM, T-Pain, SIR, and more on this album. IDK has a lot of potential. I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Dave – We’re All Alone In This Together: Dave is a UK rapper known for his lyrics. He has proved in the past that he is an amazing lyricist and storyteller. He once again proves his skill set on this album. There are moments in this album that leave me speechless. For example, the transition from Dave to ShaSimone’s verse on “Both Sides of A Smile” is mindblowing. On “In The Fire”, Dave brought in the Avengers of UK rap on the same track for an insane posse cut. Dave is rapping his ass off on “Heart Attack”. When the beat ends he is still spitting bars. Although I wish this album was a bit more focused, this is an insanely good rap album.

Song of The Month:

James Blake – Say What You Will: Over the past couple of years, James Blake hasn’t missed in my opinion. This single continues the fantastic streak he has been having. James is basically singing about being happy with yourself. As always, James gives an amazing singing performance. The second half especially is where he really goes all in. This man has the voice of an angel. I am very impressed with this song. James is dropping an album this year, so that is very exciting. I’m definitely looking forward to it.

EP of The Month:

Tkay Maidza – Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 3: I think it was no secret this was going to be my EP of the year. On my YouTube channel, you can watch me fall in love with this EP on first listen. I reviewed this EP here on Indie Pong. This EP is amazing with some jaw-dropping production, astounding rapping, and gorgeous singing. The cohesiveness of this EP makes me excited for her next album. Imagine the greatness Tkay can create with a full-fledged album if she continues in this direction. She has so much potential. I can’t wait for whatever comes next.

Album of The Month:

Rejjie Snow – Baw Baw Black Sheep: Rejjie Snow is an Irish rapper. He thrives on these relaxed and chill jazz-infused beats. This album is such a pleasant listen. This album was meant to make you feel good. This is the perfect album to listen to when you’re out walking at a park during sunset. It makes you appreciate your surroundings. It makes you appreciate the little things in life. That’s at least what I got out of this album. I hope it does the same for you. Give this album a listen if you haven’t already.

These are my monthly favorites! Let me know what you have been listening to!

2 + 2 Reviews: Summer Scorcher Edition

August is here!!! With summer’s swan song, comes a new batch of scorchers for your listening pleasure. This week, we’re taking a look at top-tier offerings from Rivers of Nihil, Leprous, Sam Birchall, and Gunship & Tyler Bates featuring Dave Lombardo.

Read on to see what we thought!

Rivers of Nihil – Clean

BH: I first got introduced to this group when I was hearing how good their last album “Where Owls Know My Name” was.  I picked up the album after hearing a few tracks and was blown away by the mix of tech death, prog and sax (!).  One of their strengths is they don’t let the tech or prog get in the way of the songwriting.

Their new single, Clean, is probably the best example of this.

I haven’t been able to stop listening to this song since it dropped this week.  I love the slower chug buildup that wraps its tentacles around you and then explodes into a massive maelstrom of riffs.

Jared Klein’s drumming is once again on top-form here.  I also want to mention that the production on the drums is really great on this single.  

I actually prefer the production on this over the last album.  Jake Dieffenbach’s vocals still crush and if anything his vocals sound better than ever.  I also have to mention Brody Uttley’s lead riff rules and the solo section is tasteful and fits perfectly in the song.  

I have to say that at least based on this single, Rivers of Nihil’s new album may be the one that really takes the band to next level heights.  I think they may soon be in a similar category as Gojira is and deservedly so.     

George, is this your first introduction to Rivers of Nihil?  If so, hell of a time to get into them.  What influences do you hear in their sound?  What’s your favorite part of the song?   

GF: This is indeed my first introduction to them! As far as first introductions go, this one was very particular too. I was a bit hesitant for the opening segments, but I came to find myself more and more on board with what I was hearing, as the song progressed.

At first blush, Dieffenbach’s were just a tad too much for me, but now, I kinda love them. The backup he gets from the rest of the band, when they’re actually singing, makes for a really nice compliment too.

You mention the tech and proggy aspects of the band’s sound, and I think that’s what made me really get on board with this. The second half of the song is definitely my favorite part of the tune, as it sounds like the soundtrack for some sort of summoning ritual inside an ice cave lit with very particular blues and greens.

Also, the guitar solo is indeed a cooker– one that features a really slick build, and some really considered, melodic playing.

I’m glad you put me on to the band’s music. I’ll definitely be checking out the album when it drops

Pre-order their new album “The Work” here: https://www.indiemerchstore.com/collections/rivers-of-nihil

Catch Rivers of Nihil on tour with The Black Dahlia Murder this fall!

Leprous – The Silent Revelation

BH: Now THIS is Leprous.  I’ll admit the previous single, Running Low, left me unsure on what we would be getting on this new album. It’s a solid song but The Silent Revelation is more in line with what I love about this band.

If you’re not familiar with Leprous yet, now’s a great time to dig in.  They started out as the backing band for Ihsahn (who is also amazing) and branched out with their own albums.  

“Aphelion” is their seventh album to date.  If this track is any indication, this album might hit the highs of “Malina”, which is my favorite album from the band.  The textures at play here are very reminiscent of that album, mixed with a little of what made their previous album “Pitfalls” tick.  

Einar’s vocals of course soar as usual here.  I also really appreciate the quieter portions of the song, particularly when the strings come in at around the halfway point. 

This is a STUNNING track by everyone in the band though. It’s dynamic, catchy and just beautifully written.  Can’t wait to hear the full album.

Pre-order their new album “Aphelion” here:

https://centurymedia.store/dept/leprous?cp=102832_103046_103783

Sam Birchall- Jitterbug Perfume

GF: I’m not quite sure how to describe Sam Birchall’s music, but I fell in love with his guitar playing after hearing him play just a handful of notes.

I find this song to be particularly wonderful, as his playing manages to be both wildly expressive and full of joy, whilst maintaining a high degree of technical proficiency.

This is a very, very, difficult balance to maintain. Here, his lines zig and zag with reckless abandon, but never in a way that’s outwardly show-y, or superfluous. To my ears, he’s managing to effortlessly channel the stylistic tendencies of Pete Cosey, Allan Holdsworth, and maybe, Omar Rodriguez Lopez, creating something that is uniquely his own.

I feel like this is a perfect song for a summer afternoon, while you sip lemonade, or a cold beer. It’s something to play while you sit in the shade and smile, thankful for the fact that it’s 72 and breezy outside.

I can’t recommend this highly enough, and I’m super thankful to have come across his music.

Gunship & Tyler Bates- Berserker (featuring Dave Lombardo)

GF: I’m not gonna lie, I came here for Dave Lombardo.

My favorite drummer from the big 4 of thrash, Mr. Lombardo’s presence on a song will get me to listen, no matter what, as his playing is never short of magic.

While he’s not the star of the show here, he still manages to bring some muscle to the song, in addition to a few of his signature drum fills.

As someone who was not familiar with Gunship’s music, I was very pleasantly surprised to encounter their particular brand of NIN meets Perturbator.

If this track doesn’t go full-on synth-pop here in a couple of spots, it gets REALLY, REALLY, close, and I’m kind of all for it.

While pure metal is cool, I’m more and more fascinated as of late by when the genre butts up against other things, or, wholly incorporates disparate genres or stylistic things into the mix. 

The song isn’t afraid to wear a lot of hats, and even sound… happy?

Going into it, I was expecting something wildly different than what I got, and I’m very thankful for that. There have been a number of strong songs that have come from the Death Metal soundtrack, but this or Chelsea Wolfe’s offering might be the top dogs.

Brandon, I know you’re more familiar with Gunship’s work, so how did this strike you in comparison to their other material? Are you familiar with any of Lombardo’s work outside of Slayer, like Fantomas? How does this rank for you amongst the offerings from the Death Metal soundtrack?

BH: Well this is a good bit different than what we usually get with Gunship in terms of the metal riffage and acoustic kit we have on this track.  

That said, similarly to other synthwave groups like Perturbator and Carpenter Brut, there is a tendency to toe the line of metal and this song certainly crosses over.

Though, it still has that big, hooky chorus that Gunship is known for.

And yeah Dave Lombardo is a great addition.  Would love to hear him collaborate more with Gunship actually.  To answer your question George, I’ve actually never ventured outside of Lombardo’s Slayer albums but am curious to check out other projects he’s been a part of.  I agree with you that Lombardo is one of if not the best drummer from the Big 4 (though Nick Menza is up there too). 

I liked several cuts off the Death Metal soundtrack and I’d say this one fits comfortably at the top.  I’m a fan of the Mastodon, Chelsea Wolfe, HEALTH and Greg Puciato tracks particularly but I could see myself coming back to this track more often in the years to come.

UnderCoverSadGirl Special: Best Songs of 2021 So Far

2021 is taking us through the Summer with pulsing music. Here is a playlist with some of the best songs of the year so far, as we ask ourselves, “Are we there yet?” The musical highlights from 2021 (so far) include Genesis Owusu, Cassandra Jenkins, and Squid.

Genesis Owusu’s groundbreaking debut album, Smiling With No Teeth is the hip-hop, techno, video game music you need to dance to. The standout songs include, “The Other Black Dog,” “Don’t Need You,” and “Smiling with No Teeth.” He relates the concept of the ‘black dog’ as a euphemism for depression to his experience with being subjected to racism. The lyrics are both liberating and contemplative. He was heavily influenced by the video game, Jet Set Radio Future and will be touring in the US for the first time in 2022.

Cassandra Jenkins’ poetic, impressionistic album, An Overview on Phenomenal Nature is a reflection on life, that ebbs and flows with the magical sounds of the saxophone. It only becomes more fulfilling on repeat listens. She took a lot of voice memos from strangers and recorded everything as inspiration to make sense of the change around her. The album title was taken from something a security guard told her at an art exhibit at the Met Breuer in New York. She explains in an interview with Stereogum, “There’s a lot of humor in that for me- the idea of offering some objective truth, when we’re really sharing something about our completely subjective point of view.” Cassandra Jenkins was recruited by David Berman to play as the guitarist with his album for Purple Mountains. Berman tragically died by suicide, just days before the tour would begin. Though she only knew him a short while, her memory and grief around this loss are articulated in the songs, “New Bikini” and “Ambiguous Norway.”

Bright Green Field is Squid’s debut rock album and it sounds both urgent and scary. The five musicians (Ollie Judge, Anton Pearson, Louis Borlase, Arthur Leadbetter, and Laurie Nankivell) write all of their music together and jam it out in a collaborative way. The song, “Narrator” was in part influenced from Bi Gan’s dystopian film, A LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT. The song gives us an unreliable narrator to question and meditate on. The whole album is experimental in the right way and denotes the feeling of a medieval, dystopian environment. The anxiety riddled throughout this music is a cathartic escape, strange enough to leave you coming back for more and more. 

2 + 2 Reviews: Record Store Day Weekend Edition

Apologies for the lengthy delay.  Both George and I have been swamped with our day jobs but glad to be back for a new batch of tunes on Record Store Day weekend.  Speaking of, if you haven’t gone and supported the artists and your local store, now is as good of a time as any.  Personally, I nabbed the Soen special RSD release and also Opeth launched their Blackwater Park 20th Anniversary vinyls on Friday which is one of my all time favorite albums.  Check out my Insta (@concertcam) to see my posts coming soon. Anyhow, this week we have new cuts from Between the Buried and Me, Deafheaven, Whites Stones and…checks notes and eardrums…IRON MAIDEN!! 

Between the Buried and Me – Fix The Error

BH: Ok first things first…Between the Buried and Me is releasing Colors 2 in August.  This is not a drill.  It is very ballsy though, particularly since Colors is widely considered one of the band’s best albums.  Fortunately, BTBAM doesn’t release anything less than stellar so even if the album doesn’t end up being as good as Colors, it’ll still rule. 

Which brings us to the first single, Fix the Error.  I’ve spun this probably fifteen times since it dropped and it just gets better with each listen.  I will say the first few listens, I didn’t quite know what to make of it.  

The guest drum solo section featuring Mike Portnoy, Navene Koperweis, Kenneth Schalk and of course, Blake Richardson was immediate for me though.  Each of them are phenomenal here and at this point I can tell who is playing each solo but they all blend together perfectly.  

The “have you seen the rainbow” section is probably the most baffling initially but I really enjoy it now.  It actually plays nicely off a few sections from their classic song, Selkies, in my opinion.  

George, what was your first reaction to Fix the Error?  I know you’re familiar with the band but what’s the last album you’ve heard from them?  Are you a fan of Colors?

GF: I’m not gonna lie the first time I heard this, I raised my eyebrow at a couple of things, but the more I thought about it (and listened) it felt like the band was being very true to themselves. If this song is any indication of the album as a whole, I expect Colors 2 will be a worthy successor to the first album.

My history with the band is a little funny, as I didn’t actually give, “Colors,” a full listen until last year.

Sacrilegious, I know.

Here’s the thing though– “The Great Misdirect,” is one of my favorite metal albums OF ALL TIME, I was kinda scared to listen to what most people considered BtBaM’s masterpiece, lest it dethrone an album I held so dear.

I still like, “The Great Misdirect,” better, but, “Colors,” is worthy of its acclaim– this is a metal album that has a hoe-down section after all. 

Yes, you read that right– go listen to, “Ants of the Sky,” and make sure you have your cowboy hat ready for when the banjos come out.

In any case, there were a few things that made me pause in here, as I thought they were tending a little more towards silly than I would have liked: the bass solo, and what we’ll refer to as the song’s, “twisted carnival,” sequences.

Hearing these, I was like, “really?” but then I realized that BtBaM had precedents for both of these things in their previous songs, and they were simply building upon what they’d established on earlier albums.

While I prefer the fretless (or double-bass?) action heard within, “The Great Misdirect,” the bass solo on here is actually pretty gutter. It’s some nimble shit, and the tone is a bold statement for a metal song. I’m with it.

Re: your mention of the drum solos Brandon, that was the first thing about the song that I fell in love with. I didn’t know that they got Mike Portnoy to provide them with a BLESSING, and the other gentlemen who feature on here are throwing it down too. It’s definitely my favorite part of the song.

For the same reason that I was afraid to listen to “Colors,” I’ve not sought out the band’s more recent releases, but I’ll have to do so now. 

Like you, my appreciation for this song has only grown as I’ve listened to it more, so I think we’re in for a treat.

Between the Buried and Me’s Colors 2 will release on August 20th which you can preorder here: https://www.betweentheburiedandme.com 

Deafheaven – The Gnashing

GF: I feel a bit bad giving Deafheaven two slots in a row, but they keep bringing the heat, so that’s just what it is.

It seems like the internet has been evenly split on the band’s new direction, and I’ve had a little waffling since these songs have come out, but I’m firmly back in the camp of, “this is great.”

More propulsive as a whole than, “Great Mass of Color,” this song is a pretty straight-ahead rocker. The choruses are big, the guitar leads start in, “meltdown mode,” off the bat, and the band seems like they’re really enjoying what they’re playing.

These are all good things, and it leads me to discuss what we’ll call the song’s, “cookout,” section.

As with “Great Mass of Color,” the band saves it’s most powerful moment for the tail end of the song. Here, it arrives in the form of some severely deep-fried reverb/wah action that recalls some of both, “Baby Blue,” and, “Canary Yellow.” It’s funny as this song has no sort of color in its title, but so it goes.

In either instance, the fleet-fingered, back-mixed lead work that closes the song out is just an aural feast for anyone with a good sound system or headphones. I’m hoping they’re able to keep things this exciting as they release more from the album.

Deafheaven’s Infinite Granite arrive on August 20th and you can pre-order here: https://www.hellomerch.com/collections/deafheaven.  I grabbed the picture disc which is just so slick.

White Stones – Chain of Command

BH: If you don’t know already, I’m kind of a die-hard Opeth fan (and perhaps my intro clarifies this).  This includes being a fan of the side bands from the respective current and ex-members.  I’ve written about Soen several times on Indiepong but not too much on White Stones.  

WS is Martin Mendez’s other band and it’s clear that since Opeth is no longer releasing even remotely death metal albums now, White Stones will take on the role.  

Chain of Command hits really strongly right out of the gate so I’m increasingly excited to see what else awaits on the second album from the group.  Yes, this sounds a lot like Opeth used to, particularly the bass tone and guitar riffs.  And that’s pretty great by me.  

I love the eerie whispers at the beginning of this track and man alive, that lead riff is super catchy.  I dug the debut album a lot but this song *might* be better than any of the songs on there. 

The vocals absolutely crush and I love how tight the drumwork is.  Other than Mendez, I wasn’t too familiar with the other members of the band but he certainly surrounded himself with top-notch musicians.  

White Stone’s second album, Dancing Into Oblivion, will release on August 27th, which you can preorder here.  

Iron Maiden- The Writing on the Wall

GF: When Brandon sent the link through for this song, I was both excited and nervous at the same time.

Excited because… well, new Iron Maiden.

Nervous, because… I feel like the law of averages is going to have to catch up with the band at some point, and they’re going to *winces* release some music that’s *double winces* not very good.

Thankfully, that’s not the case here, and Bruce and the boys are back in business.

This seems to be cruising pretty comfortably in the lane of what Maiden put out back in ‘06, with, “A Matter of Life and Death,” an album that just so happens to be my favorite Maiden studio release when it comes to their 21st century output.

That’s no knock against “Book of Souls,” or anything else that they’ve put out since Bruce re-joined the band either, I just feel like, “A Matter of Life and Death,” was a pretty special album. Its strength is especially impressive, considering that they recorded it so late into their career.

In any case, this is mid-tempo Maiden with a bit of groove to it. Bruce it still giving it everything he has, and it sounds like both Dave and Adrian get to spin the wheel when it comes to the guitar solos?

It sounds like whoever bats second throws a little half-cocked wah and some slight inflection into the mix which is always appreciated, and the solos in general serve as a marvelous set of exclamation points in the song.

The chorus is probably going to be stuck in my head for the rest of the evening, and perhaps, well into tomorrow too, so I’d say mission accomplished, if these gentlemen were looking to put another notch on their belt of anthems.

Brandon, what are your favorite parts of the song? Did you know that Maiden was even going to put new music out? How does this compare against what the band has put out these last 20 years in your mind? Where does it fall in terms of your appreciation?

BH:  So I did know that Maiden was up to something because they had made a few hints recently on social media but it wasn’t really clear what exactly they were doing.

Then they drop this rad new song on us and well…as usual for Maiden…it’s super good.

Before I get too into it though, this song got me psyched to go back through their discography yet again.  I was starting to go in order but now I’m kinda jumping all over the place.  I’ve got to say that their debut album might be one of my favorite debut albums out there.  It’s almost perfect even without Bruce.  

That all said, nothing quite compares to some of the classic Bruce albums like Powerslave, along with the “Return of the Bruce” albums from Brave New World and on.  

Very interesting to hear how connected you are with A Matter of Life and Death, George.  I like that album a lot too, though Dance of Death was actually the album that I’m closest to from the “Return of the Bruce” period.  To clarify, it’s not my favorite of this batch (that would be Brave New World) BUT I snuck out of high school with some friends to grab this album on release day so it’s near and dear to me regardless of that godawful cover art.

Anyhow, this new song definitely has me eagerly anticipating the next album.  I love the opening Western-ish guitar lick.  Feels like something different for Maiden.  When it kicks into gear, the song reminds me of a track from The Final Frontier sessions in terms of build up and pacing but it’s really quite different too.  The chorus feels like a standard one for the group but that’s not a bad thing.  

I also really appreciate the more progressive second half with the killer guitar solo. 

To answer your question George, I tend to be an album guy particularly with Maiden in the sense that the single is usually just one small piece of the bigger picture.  It’s a little hard to gauge how this will stack up on the upcoming album, but I’d say it would have fit nicely on the last couple of albums.  Is it better than tracks like If Eternity Should Fail from The Book of Souls…eh maybe not but that’s no slight as again this is a damn solid song and I think as I hear it in the context of the new album, it’ll only grow for me.  Up the Irons!