As we all know, 2020 has been an interesting year, but even a more interesting year for music. A lot of good albums & runner-ups have been put out during this rough year… as most of us have been inside this year due to the pandemic & trying to keep our time filled, we’ve been listening! So, we at Not A Sound have decided to give you all our top 5 releases of the year with each writer’s picks! Take a look if you’d like, and have a great 2021!
Ugly is Beautiful – Oliver Tree
Esther – Second to Safety
This is Loss and It Will Pass – A Boy Named John
Notes on a Conditional Form – The 1975
Life on Other Planets – Moon Hooch
Run The Jewels – RTJ4
Fiona Apple – Fetch The Bolt Cutters
Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher
The Strokes – The New Abnormal
Jeff Rosenstock – No Dream
Run The Jewels- RTJ4
Imperial Triumphant- Alphaville
Jeff Rosenstock- No Dream
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit- Reunions
August Burns Red- Guardians
The Ghost Inside- Self Titled
Second To Safety- Esther
Slaughter Beach, Dog- At the Moonbase
(Zack listed “Phoebe Bridgers- Punisher” as well as “The Front Bottoms- in Sickness and in Flames” as runner-ups respectively)
Phoebe Bridgers- Punisher
Nothing- The Great Dismal
Taylor Swift- Evermore
Fiona Apple- Fetch The Bolt Cutters
Big Sean- Detroit 2
Mac Miller- Circles (deluxe)
IDLES- Ultra Mono
(William lists “Taylor Swift- folklore” as well as “Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats- Unlocked” both as runner-ups respectively)
That’s all folks! Thank you for checking out these lists & for being the reason we do what we do. We hope to see you all next year! Until then, we hope to bring more content to you in the new year & maybe soon, so keep your eyes peeled. Take care. Peace & love.
Is wasted on chasing the dream of someone that isn’t us
And we may not hate our jobs
But we hate jobs in general
That don’t have to do with fighting our own causes.”
This wordy excerpt is not a speech by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but a refrain from loquacious Long Islander Aesop Rock, and it serves as the thesis for his third album, 2001’s Labor Days. Filled to the brim with thesaurus-mandating verses about hopes, dreams, and working class anxieties, this banner release from underground hip-hop royalty label Definitive Jux has taken on many meanings to many people over the past 19 years. To some, it was the pipeline to underground rap music, whether the entry point opened through mixtapes passed around by that hip neighbourhood kid or through hours spent playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4, which features the opening track as one of its soundtrack’s many stand out hip-hop attractions. To some, (admittedly one demographic, primarily; white middle class kids who were looking for a way into the rapidly growing genre) it served as the artsier alternative to albums like The Marshall Mathers LP, featuring wordplay that equaled Eminem’s but didn’t rely on the shock value or constant baiting of the era’s MTV regulars. In 2020 however it stands as, in this writer’s/fan’s opinion, among the greatest albums in any genre to wrestle with a theme that has constantly been a mainstay in hip-hop since its inception: work, and the struggles of working people against the people who try to keep their dreams away from them.
Class is a theme that has often manifested in many diverse ways in hip-hop music, most conspicuously coming into play via the commercially successful yet oft-misunderstood mafioso subgenre that is filled with mythological tales that take inner-city Black kids like Shawn Carter and Nasir Jones from the Marcy Homes and Queensbridge Houses to the penthouses in lower Manhattan. Eminem, to name another mainstream artist, is often credited with connecting to Middle America to rap specifically because of the underclass anxiety he touched on through his shock jock stories. Aesop Rock comes from a decidedly different world from that of Jay-Z, Nas, or Eminem. Starting out as a skater kid armed with a dictionary and a sampler, and inspired by artists from KMD to Dead Kennedys, Rock emerged at a time when alternative hip-hop artists like Mos Def and Company Flow were operating in a post-Biggie New York. His first two albums circulated through NYC’s underground and eventually gained the young Long Islander a reputation for verbosity. Buried beneath his heavy lexicon were stories laced with working class anxiety; it wasn’t until Labor Days that this artistic statement became its most pronounced, direct, and, for those who are deliberate listeners and recognize the frustrations that inspire the labyrinth of words he’s laying down, its most cathartic.
Opening with the blaring synth blasts of “Labor,” Rock starts things out with a question: “Who put the monkey wrench in well-oiled perfectionist emblem/Just to watch these monitors spit white noise through your office space”. Right off the bat, we are asking who has sabotaged the system, one that has been romanticized as the perfect life…an assertion that is nothing more than a symbol, according to the MC…into trapping the proletariat class into a life spent wasting away in front of a computer (or a toolbox) for a dream that isn’t theirs. Using pop culture references–1973’s animated sci-fi classic Fantastic Planet, where large blue aliens enslave and hegemonize earthling humans; to Spider-Man villain Green Goblin, who hides his true identity, wealthy industrialist Norman Osborne, behind a menacing flying monster who terrorizes New York City; and to the underclass anarchy of 1979’s The Warriors, Rock looks at class struggle as a spectacle that has been taken advantage of by the ruling class. He’s left to work for the rest of his life until he passes on (“I work past the surface/I work on what I love, I work to service all my burdens/And I’ll work until this here little flat line closes the curtains”).
Even if it is among his most recognized tracks courtesy of THPS4, “Labor” feels like just an intro track compared to what follows, which is the crowd favourite “Daylight.” Anchored by a calm, melancholy beat that could easily accompany an early morning commute to one’s crappy day job or a late night ride home from said job, Rock longs for control over his life and his dreams in the earnestly sung chorus: “All I ever wanted was to pick apart the day, put the pieces back together my way.” Confucian bits of grounded wisdom and metaphor fill the verses of this standout track, as poetic as “His origami dream is beautiful/But man, those wings will never leave the ground/Without a feather and a lottery ticket, now settle down” to as direct and on the nose as “Life’s not a bitch/Life is a beautiful woman, you only call her a bitch ‘cause she won’t let you get that pussy/Maybe she didn’t feel y’all shared any similar interests/or maybe you’re just an asshole who couldn’t sweet talk a princess.” Coloured with melancholy and weariness over the burdens that life brings people, “Daylight” is foremost anchored by an eternal hope and desire to take power over one’s life. It remains one of his greatest songs.
“Flashflood” takes a look at the New York dream, which he views as a manipulative game akin to Monopoly, “Thug, vagrant, yuppie, art freak game piece all included.” In the city where dreams are made of, privileged artists who were provided the easy path in life “suck the proverbial silver spoon till their parents quit apparently/Parasol spinning casually like/I’m an artist, please don’t laugh at me.” The easy path is a theme that appears throughout the album, often juxtaposed against the hard, treacherous path that working class people are forced to trudge to get where they want to be.
The “easy way” is most interestingly explored in “No rEgrets,” a short story of a song spanning 80 years. The protagonist is Lucy, a girl who lives one singular dream and focuses on little else, affording her the privilege of never living with a regret. In three verses, she goes from a shy little girl who ignores the jeers of bullies and adults and commits her time to elaborate sidewalk chalk drawings to an aging charcoal artist who is introverted, detached from those around her save the one man she romantically involves herself with (an artist himself who doesn’t distract her from her pursuit) to an old lady with not a single regret because her life was dedicated to the only thing she wanted to do since day one. “One, two, three, that’s the speed of the need.” We might as well simplify everything down to one thing if we’re going to get anywhere. Rock presents us with a binary choice: “You can dream a little dream or you can live a little dream.” Lucy’s dying words are “Look, I’ve never had a dream in my life/Because a dream is what you wanna do but still haven’t pursued/I knew what I wanted and did it till it was done/So I’ve been the dream that I’ve wanted to be since day one!” Rock doesn’t seem to be critical nor praising of Lucy. She merely takes the only road available to salvage a reality that most people living under the ruling class face. We can have as many dreams as we want, but they will always be next to impossible to achieve unless we whittle them down as much as we can, so we might as well do that, at least. “I’d rather live it, ‘cause dreamers always chase but never get it.”
“One Brick,” featuring underground Ohio rapper Illogic, and “The Tugboat Complex pt. 3” take the class struggle dynamic and apply it to hip hop at large. While Aesop Rock is not a rapper who sells millions (especially in 2001), he is still an underground influencer, a status he shares with the countless MCs who are widely influential but continue to go unrecognized (I can’t help but think of the hilarious “Angry Rapper” skit at the beginning of Notorious B.I.G.’s “Kick In The Door,” but I digress). While these artists work hard to keep the game alive, wealthy label executives are the ones who pick and choose who gets exposed to the consumers. This is prevalent throughout the many tracks leading up to the centerpiece of the album, “9-5’ers Anthem.”
The thesis-statement of a track opens with dreamy chimes and the relatable “I’m late again,” as a sleeping Aesop wakes up to reality and a hard-hitting beat of busy bass and turntable. Possibly the most excoriating critique of American capitalism ever committed to a hip-hop beat, Aesop raps about how “an aggravated breed,” the working class, are stuck in a cycle of throwing “long Hail Mary bombs/Toward cookie-cutter Mother Natures bedazzled synthetic fabrics.” They are trapped in a cycle of producing and consuming while being forbidden from benefiting off of it. In something of a contrast to the “Life’s not a bitch” lyric off of “Daylight,” Rock gives an incensed observation of life’s treatment of people who have done nothing to merit their misfortune. “Life treats the peasants like they tried to fuck his woman while he slept inside/Well they’re merely chasing perfectionist emblems.” Perhaps he understands that life is also the victim here, and the blame really falls on those who are hellbent on controlling it, and in that way becoming it. He focuses just enough indignation on the aggrandizers, and the conformity they inspire in the powerless; “I’ll take my seat atop the Brooklyn Bridge/With a Coke and a bag of chips/To watch a thousand lemings plummet just because/The first one slipped.” In a time where people have shown they are more than willing to march to the death being led by an opportunistic leader, be that Trump, Musk, or Bezos, this lyric seems all the more relevant.
Labor Days is a genre defining work that may have gone under the radar for a lot of listeners, but has nonetheless inspired so many artists with its encyclopedic rhymes and top-notch alt-rap production. More than that, it is a masterpiece of working class frustrations, concentrating on the slog that is life within the underclass, be it as an artist or an office drone. It is the story of an American music genre as much as it is a story of an American people and their struggle against a machine that too often seems more hellbent on crushing them than helping them. Rap has lifted some individuals out of poverty and allowed dreams to flourish. For Aesop Rock though, this hip-hop dream, like the American Dream, is elusive and next to impossible for most of the people working just as hard for their dreams, and in stark contrast to the limos and penthouses, it provides the world of hip-hop with a dose of sobering reality.
Kid Cudi is an artist who has always changed up his formula with every project he has released. Well known and critically acclaimed for his first two “Man On The Moon” albums, he wasn’t willing to settle by any means. Even as projects moving forward would tend to flop in the eyes of critics and fans or get mixed reviews, Scott Mescudi, or “Kid Cudi”, still continued in doing what made him happy. While “Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven” received negative and mixed reviews as well, over time, fans have come to appreciate how deep and different the album is compared to Kid’s other projects. Even Andre 3000 as well as other notable artists Kanye West and Erykah Badu gave the album high praise. When friend of mine mentioned to me that this is a punk rock album by Kid Cudi, as some one who loves punk rock music and its culture, I was curious to see how this record would be overall.
While this album isn’t something that hasn’t been tried before, for Kid Cudi it is something almost completely different. If you are expecting any hip hop elements in the mix here of this album, you may be disappointed. However, you may at least appreciate the title track “Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven”, which sounds like something off of the “Man On The Moon” albums but with much more instrumentation. I was very impressed with how much versatility Kid pulled off in this album, not just because it is a style change, but for how loud this album is. It’s very punk rock at times and also very grunge-sounding at times. It sounds as if Kid may have been on the brink of insanity by lyrical content, putting it into poetry and him singing/yelling over a bunch of sloppy punk rock riffs. If there’s one thing I can agree with fans on, it’s that this is arguably his most deep and confident release of his career thus far.
Through the record until about the middle part of it stopping after the track “Judgmental C**t”, we hear very Nirvana-esque riffs and music while the vocals some times don’t differ too far from his work before this record. At some points, the vocals don’t seem to play well into the mix, but it’s made up for what it lacks in the way the music sounds. “Fade 2 Red” & “AMEN” are arguably the most punk-rock sounding songs on the album, loud and filled with more drums than most of what the rest of the album has to offer. “Handle With Care” is my personal favorite song on the album though, surprisingly… It is his most soft song here in terms of sound as well, but the lyrics are very deep and yet somehow cathartic.
At this point in the album though, the sound starts to decline a little bit throughout the second half. While there are some very alluring & much more deep moments as far as lyrical quality, nothing stood out to me as much as the first half. There’s also Beavis & Butthead skits at the end of several songs in the album… While this adds a lighthearted and funny feel to soften up the album’s flow, it almost doesn’t fit. During their appearances, Beavis & Butthead both comment on how they are feeling about the album & how they are being influenced by hallucinogenics while listening to it. It is weird to hear this in the album, but also makes me appreciate the album as an art piece less in a way though too. I was surprised to hear the 3 demos in this half of the album and no fully finished tracks of the same names to back them up as well. While these 3 tracks may keep the spirit of punk rock fresh in the album, it doesn’t seem to fit well where they were placed, as they feel like some songs that should have been put on the first half of the album(or maybe not at all).
Overall, if you are big fan of punk rock and grunge music, this may be an album you are at least able to appreciate. It is infectious in terms of sound, but, somewhat lackluster in quality and when considering it artwork. I will say, though, this is arguably Kid Cudi’s most underrated album and is one for the books, it is one I may be revisiting in the future as well. In more recent times, Kid has put out a single with legendary rapper Eminem titled “The Adventures Of Moon Man & Slim Shady”. Kid Cudi & Travis Scott also put out a track in April titled “The Scotts” under their new group titled under the same name “The Scotts”, and are slated to release a much anticipated project in the future. What can we expect from Kid Cudi in the future aside from this? Who knows?! He is a man of many talents and obviously has a lot of tricks up his sleeve. I, personally, would like to see a return to the punk rock & grunge sounds on this album at some point should Kid Cudi feel the urge to release something similar to this again… either way, I’ll always be eager for what his future as an artist holds.
Oliver Tree often asks, “Where is the division between the man and the meme?” He attempts to answer this question but fails to satisfy me with his answer. Oliver Tree is an artist who slowly burned onto the scene rather than bursting onto it.. Having released many singles and an EP before putting out his debut album and developing a methodology of turning yourself into a meme for the purpose of marketing he’s certainly worked hard to get to where he is now. However, as revealed in recent interviews with Anthony Fantano and MTV, this is also his last album.
He revealed that he is tired of working with record labels and having to become someone he’s not simply to release music and be paid for it. ” ’I’m just ready to drop all the bullshit and just get to be the real guy, make the real art,’ he said on a Zoom call with MTV News from inside a domineering plastic bubble.”1 Right after telling Anthony Fantano that he’s tired of marketing himself, he brought out a large document that he wrote for his senior project on how to become a meme.2
There’s immense tension in his music and character. On one side you have someone who writes music about being a genuine person. On the other is a person who doesn’t seem to be his genuine self. He has explained on various occasions that the jacket is his mothers and one that he wore growing up, his haircut is similar to one he’s always had, his JNCO jeans are the ones he’s always wanted, and his scooter is one that he’s ridden as a professional. This doesn’t resolve the tension that I felt, though. He’s taken some qualities of himself and turned them into a caricature, a meme.
Despite this tension in his artist persona, his music sings to me – as someone also going through early adulthood – of his journey through self-discovery and growth. He sings of feelings of being outcast and “other” while gazing upon society and seeing people just fitting in and not living out who they really are. It’s a call to action to create and live life with vision. Instrumentally, it melds genres such as indie, alternative, rap, and pop. It calls back to music he may have grown up listening to while still sounding unique and genuine.
Ugly is Beautiful caught my attention in a way that most pop albums don’t. I went in having heard one track and was taken in with every aspect of it. It was easy to see a genuine person in the lyrics and instrumentals. It kept every track interesting without falling into the trap of trying to make everything a banger. You could feel the enjoyment of the music making process and the real experiences he sings about.
The standout track in this album for me was “Hurt”. It details feelings and experiences around becoming a semi-pro scooter rider and an accident that happened during a competition. Lyrically and instrumentally he gets at the despair that you feel when you have things like this happen, when everything you know is taken away. Throughout many of his other songs, he writes about his struggles with drugs and feeling ostracized by others. Throughout this there’s a feeling of hope and confidence as he comes to terms with who he is and what he wants to do.
He seems to be following his own call to action as he leaves music – for now at least – and looks to start his own film production company. He’s seeking to make films he’s passionate about without having to deal with the bureaucracy and money of the music industry. After watching his music videos, there is little doubt that he will succeed as a filmmaker with vision. I will be interested to find out, however, which side of the internal dissonance that he’s displayed will win out.
Madaila returns with a fresh take on their sound, deviating from synth-pop roots and opting instead for a more subtle folk approach.
Madaila has been a favorite of mine for several years now. “What If” won my heart, and tracks like “Give Me All Your Love”, “I Know”, and “I Don’t Want to Rest” really sealed things for me. Last year’s Clandestine Magic was a long-awaited return to form for the band after a bit of a hiatus (during which frontman Mark Daly released an ambitious solo LP).
Now, Madaila is back. Sort of. West is the first of four Madaila EPs slated for this year, and it’s quite a bit different that the 80s-styled pop they’ve been known for. Instead, there’s a lot more folk influence at play. The songs are more raw, rural, and perhaps even grittier.
None of this is left field for Daly who previously fronted the short-lived Chamberlin, a dynamic folk act with a sadly-shallow discography. However, the new Madaila is hardly just a Chamberlin reissue. It feels like a rejuvenation of the group’s classic sound, ditching some of the funner, dancier elements for a more humble, mature tone. Daly’s piercing falsetto is still at play, but in many ways, this feels like an entirely new band. Perhaps each EP will explore a different musical style – nonetheless, West is decidedly soulful and vulnerable, treading the careful line between bombastic indie and tender alt-country. Previous releases had apparent charisma, begging to be heard. This time around, the gloss is gone as Madaila doesn’t need to ask for attention. Like an old friend, the group beckons in listeners who will immediately feel comfortable and at home.
All this said, while it may not immediately feel like a Madaila release, it’s certainly good. “One Thing Can’t Be Everything” opens the release, with Migrant-era The Dear Hunter vibes and bright tones.”Sweet Revival” is booming and emotional. “Young Again” feels the closest to the Madaila back catalog. “Love In Ohio” is painfully lamentful. “You Won’t Be Alone” is a warm closer to the collection.
Lyrically, there are traces of things we’ve seen from Madaila before, albeit recontextualized. Love is a key theme, but it’s explored in a more poetic manner. Elsewhere, lines like “I’m not doing so well” feel undeniably easy to relate to. Daly isn’t claiming to have all the answers or the strength to weather any storm that may come to pass, and it’s this uncertainty and vulnerability that feels juxtaposed against songs like “I Know”. And while the latter is strong in its own right, there’s something about this new method of delivery that seems so powerful.
West is far from what you’d expect from Madaila, but it seems like a thoughtful and honest release through and through. Mark Daly hasn’t forgotten his roots in folk and it’s fresh to see both instrumental and lyrical elements of that style flourish here. I’m certainly excited to see what’s next.
FFO: beach rock, lofi, bedroom pop, progressive rock
I’ve been called an old soul for preferring albums over singles and EPs; indeed, it is far more common to see bands releasing shorter (and more regular) works to appeal to dwindling attention spans and the saturation of dopamine that is omnipresent. That’s not to say singles or EPs are lazy, but they’re certainly more convenient from a commercial standpoint. Albums largely seem to be on their way out.
Enter Metadiscorse who have crafted a two-disk long player behemoth of a debut. The first part, This Isn’t Funny, is officially out today (along with some bonus live tracks), and the band has not cut any corners here. Six of the eleven tracks are over four minutes long, with several tracks approaching the six-minute mark. Even the conscious decision to go beyond nine or ten tracks seems significant. And while LP2 is still forthcoming, if we assume it’ll be comparable in length, this ends up being quite a hefty project.
Sonically, the band describes themselves as lofi and bedroom pop – neither of these is inaccurate, but I’d also add in terms like beach rock, grunge, and vintage psych. It’s full of moments both viscerally joyful and passionately vulnerable as frontman Hunter LoBianco croons over a variety of compositions that transport listeners from quiet docksides to restful country hamlets.
It’s hard not to draw comparisons to fellow Wisconsinite band Horace Greene, with their own unique flavor of retrospective rock. Metadiscorse has enough unique DNA in the form of more unique song structures, wide stylistic influences, and overall dynamics. However, vocal style and guitar tone are probably the biggest shared element between the two bands, and it’s hard to mentally separate the two.
“American Troglodyte” arguably serves as the flagship track on this LP and serves as a prime example of what LoBianco and friends are capable of. It’s the longest track, but none of that time is wasted. A waltz-like piano base and auxiliary percussion open the track, but the end is a whirling crescendo of full-band instrumentation. While the album has several instrumental (or at least nearly-instrumental) tracks, this build easily stands out among its compatriots.
One downside to the album format that many critics are justified about is the ability to be cohesive; personally I’m drawn to concept albums which play off motifs, lyrical themes, and elements of self-reference. Can you write a good album without these? Yes. But there’s a tendency for some albums to feel like a collection of singles more than anything else. And when a band like Metadiscorse sets out to release an album of such proportions, it’s hard for things to not feel consistent at times. The narrative inevitably suffers a bit. And genuinely, even some of the most ambitious (and greatest) albums begin to drag a bit as they surpass an hour runtime.
There are plenty of solid moments on This Isn’t Funny, but cutting a track or two could help it feel more solid as a whole. “Self Esteem” is a grungy interlude track that feels out of place on the album to begin with, but its slot as the second-to-last track seems to disrupt what would have been the one-two punch of “American Troglodyte” and “Out to Get Me”. “Problematic” and “Mid-Air Collision” are both stripped back type tracks, but even they feel too lofi for an album marketed as such. Juxtaposed against “Open Letter to Ms. Caroline”, these songs feel perhaps a bit under-developed.
But apart from these songs, there’s not too much to complain about. Sure, production could be a bit more pristine but there wasn’t a $20,000 budget here. The band has been fairly resourceful and the end result still sounds pretty crisp. The variety of explored genres is exciting, especially the mathy “Tokyo Drift (Conventionally Unattractive”. The variety may feel like a bit of a musical identity crisis at times, but there’s huge potential for the band to market specific songs to different audiences and leverage themed playlists here.
Metadiscorse is fearlessly-ambitious on this release, and they’re not afraid of the short-term commercial impact. This Isn’t Funny is ultimately a chill album that feels cozy in the quiet of your home but would nonetheless have allure live as well. It may not feel completely well-rounded, but barring a few earlier complaints, it’s definitely a strong debut album that is certain to help you slow down and appreciate beauty in the simple things in life.
Glowbug’s Daniel Anderson is never content to stay in one place, this time emerging with an amalgamation of country, hip-hop, and lofi.
While Judah & the Lion are arguably the most mainstream example of hip-hop stylings mashed into unlikely contexts, they’ve arguably got nothing on the uncanny cocktail that is Tarantula Tapes’ debut album.
Tarantula Tapes is the latest moniker of Daniel Anderson, and Anderson himself characterizes the project as “not Glowbug” but also “not not Glowbug”. This is a fitting summary – Easy shimmers with a lofi glow and a base of vintage sounding synths, acoustic guitar, and a certain western ambiance. At times, it feels like a reimagined take on the classic chillwave sound of Glowbug, albeit one where Anderson’s vocals are substituted with intricate guitar melodies and the arrangements feel more spacious.
Admittedly, instrumental music is difficult for me to process. Even the most inane lyrics provide some degree of conversation for listeners to respond to. But without lyrics, listeners are given freedom to inject their ideas into both sides of the musical conversation.
It’s also difficult to know how to best approach instrumental works. Can they be appreciated well in the background as concentration or relaxation methods? Or should they be carefully examined with full attention? Is it a disservice to simply do one or the other?
As such, it seems unfair to try to place any sort of rating on Easy. It’s a bit like eating Indian food for the first time – it is foreign to me to some degree, and it may not go down the easiest. But that’s simply my own palate which has not been primed for this sort of release. To enjoy Tarantula Tapes properly is to not overthink things.
That’s not to say Easy isn’t carefully-crafted, lush, or compelling. But I need to temporarily suspend my notions of “meaning” and simply let these compositions cascade freely. Anderson isn’t commenting on dead-end jobs, vibrant memories of driving along the coast, or the nature of luck itself. Instead, he charts beauty is a more subjective manner – one that conjures western vistas, simple living, and an undeniable sense of wonder. Maybe the nature of quarantine holds the album back as it presents us with a sense of freedom that for many seems may never see the light of day.
Stylistically, Easy is in a league of its own. It borrows equally from Orville Peck’s cosmic country foundation and augments it with traces of classic hip-hop; hints of folk, chillwave, and Love as a Dark Hallway-era Flashbulb-esque guitar parts are all present. It’s undeniably modern, but is lovingly retrospective all the same.
Even though Tarantula Tapes is a change of pace compared to the more dynamic elements of Glowbug, the project certainly has its own unique strengths and shows Anderson’s “Renaissance man” aptitude for songwriting.
When is a piece of art truly finished? When is it time to shift gears, call things quits, or reinvent?
These are questions that have inevitably been on the mind of Hodera’s Matthew Smith. The band itself began as Smith’s solo effort before becoming a true collaborative effort. And in a move that could be seen as overcompensation, Smith has once again found himself with a solo project, this time under the Bravely moniker.
This particular movement toward solo releases happened some point after 2017’s First Things First (and its supplemental follow up, Besides). And while reasons for the band’s informal hiatus remain shrouded in mystery (at least to me), the group decided to resurface earlier this year with another EP.
The band had this to say: We really only decided to get back together due to the constant online support. We thought our journey was done but you all pushed us to keep going!
Admittedly, it’s hard to keep tabs on which bands are active, which ones are putting out releases, which ones are on the cusp of new releases, and any of the multitude of factors connected to the music industry. It’s weird to realize how much time has past since some of my favorite albums. And when a band chooses to silently fade away, it’s even more confusing as to just what’s going on. They’ve decided they’re done, but fans don’t realize it. Needless to say, prior to reading this, I guess I missed the hint that Hodera was no more.
So, their return is certainly a welcome surprise (though their back catalog does indeed hold its own), but the bigger question surrounds why they stopped in the first place. After all, First Things First was a definite change of pace from United by Birdcalls, and while Bravely deviates stylistically, the sound is adjacent enough that it could have easily been published under the Hodera moniker – I’ve seen several bands turn to solo projects or rely on guest features but carry the same brand forward.
Certainly, there are few sure answers in this case. Maybe the whole spirit behind Bravely, the mental state where those songs originate, is vastly differently than what facilitated the Hodera songs. Maybe Hodera’s identity became a true cooperative work. Maybe everything that needed to be said was already out there. Maybe it was time, distance, money, priorities. We might never know, and it’s not imperative we do. But we do know that communal support was enough to bring the band back together for another recording.
And that seems pretty interesting – that Hodera and Bravely for once exist concurrently. It’s undeniable the new iteration of Hodera is a bit different after a few years off, but it’s not a detriment. The two projects have unique purposes enough to warrant a brand separation.
But what about bands like Thrice who have seemingly run the gamut on genre? The Alchemy Index on its own carried enough stylistic variety to surpass most bands, and that’s only a microcosm of what the band has explored. Cool Hand Luke has gone from midwest emo to alternative rock to piano-based indie and has seen several lineups, including a solo iteration. There’s something to be said about a band that, in a sense, manages to have a career that lasts a couple decades. And while that’s harder and harder in the modern world, uprooting the brand you’re most known for can seem like career suicide – or at the very least, akin to starting over. Compare the social draw of Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s to Richard Edwards’ solo work – the same artist under two different names is seeing disproportionate success.
Now, Hodera is smaller than all of the bands listed; arguably, they have the most to lose starting over. It’s hard to get the first hundred or 500 people to care, and doing it all over again is excruciating.
That’s not to say this distinction is wrong by any stretch or that Hodera is the only band that has done this sort of thing; what’s unique is that the band quietly dissolved but reappeared. Whatever defines their music, whatever unites the members… these are the core parts of Hodera as a project. It would seem other artists have fewer firm definitions for their art, allowing it to be malleable to some stretch. But others, in the case of The Felix Culpa, simply exist under the pretense that they’ve reached their magnum opus and that to carry on further would be a mistake. Some reasons naturally carry a greater degree of permanence, even if the band may later decide to do some sort of reunion after reconsidering things.
But Hodera was very much a young band with a small catalog. It’s hard not to feel that the end was untimely, much like a high school romance torn to shreds when the couple go off to separate colleges. All the band has said is that they’ve stopped playing a few years back.
But just as easily as Hodera vanished, they reappeared (perhaps with more longevity). So, much like we should consider the constraints for when a project is complete, we should too ponder when perhaps a project was sunset too soon and where there is still room to continue.
In the case of Hodera, You’re Worth It definitely feels like a chapter that was missing. It’s inviting and familiar, rife with the sort of comforting wordplay Smith’s lyrics are known for. The title, the impetus for reunion, and the band’s stance on mental health seem to point toward one major driving force for their persistence: their support base. It seems that a project once decidedly introspective has shaken its telephoto roots for a wider angle based around community – that this release, and the band’s resurgence, is for the community. It’s a sort of musical thank-you card. This alone was able to break whatever confines had been placed upon Hodera, if not expand the definition of Hodera as an entity.
Ultimately, it’s good to have Hodera back with this release. In all the questions and unknowns, the band have their reasons for their actions. Hodera’s career trajectory is one of intermittent rest and forceful rise, and the end result are songs that shimmer with struggle and endurance.
It’s perhaps both a great time and horrible time to release music these days. On one hand, shows aren’t happening, chaos has manifested in some pretty tangible ways, and art itself seems far less important than larger social challenges.
On the other hand, the audience is more captive than ever – and more in need of messages of truth, sensibility, and critical thought to help discern reality in a sea of fake news, personal anxieties, and general apprehensiveness.
Here, New Language‘s latest effort, the simply-titled EP1_2020, seems to ring true. The band has been working on its second LP for quite some time, and while it’s uncertain if these songs are a subset of what we’d find on the album or not, these three tracks speak well into our current pandemic – and beyond. I’m led to believe that this EP wasn’t initially planned but that our current circumstances prompted the band to put out this release. After all, New Language is not the sort of band that takes unreasonable risks and giving listeners an anchor for reality amid socio-political and personal turmoil reflects the band’s brand of community-driven efforts. This is a band known for donating album and merch sales to charities, so dropping this EP should certainly not be taken as a cheap grab for attention.
Instead, EP1_2020 makes every effort to comfort the restless and weary. New Language has continually managed to navigate socially-conscious lyrics in a way that avoids taking sides, and this is something I particularly respect. There’s a common empathy that whatever ideals we might hold, we are all in the same world trying to make it through.
On this EP, the lyrics feel more personal than ever. Lead single “NO TIME” speaks to the consumption, if not over-consumption, of media and its consequent consumption of us. That’s not to say naivete is a good goal by any stretch, but so much of what occupies our minds can become burdensome. We see this exemplified in some of the lyrics: “Losing my sight, losing my mind, no time, no time”. It’s the sort of sentiment that works best laid so bare. While there’s certainly more to behold lyrically, suffice it to say our relationships with others are strained by how we prioritize our time and what we treasure most. In a time where we’re cut off from many people we love, it’s even more critical we direct our efforts toward those who are hurting rather than cower in escapist fashion.
“PARANOID” is a particularly striking track, and its name is perhaps the most direct of the three songs on the EP. These opening lyrics set the stage for this introspective piece:
Lost control Trying to steer clear Why are we still here?
It comes and goes Try to be sincere But why are we stuck here?
These are certainly sentiments we’ve experienced before to varying degrees, but they feel even more timely. Why are we stuck here? It’s a statement that resounds on multiple levels, from potential international distress to the millions of jobs lost in a mere few weeks. It is easy to think and feel the worst in all of this when good news feels so rare, but a panicked response certainly is not healthy either. Instead, the band has this call-to-action for us:
Can’t let go, don’t wanna be so paranoid Can’t let go, don’t wanna be so paranoid Take away, take away fixed patterns Break away, break away right now Overthrow Don’t need to be so paranoid
There’s a recognition of the unhealthy thought cycle and a desire to do something about it rather than be passively overtaken by fear. We tend to forget how even small changes in thought can have a huge effect when applied on a mass scale.
The EP ends on “CAN’T EXPLAIN”, a track accompanied by a video of LA during the quarantine which the band has created for their community. Lyrically, it feels like the most resilient track so far: even when confusion abounds, we will carry on for the people and things we love. The song’s title seems to have two sides to it – not being able to explain the current difficulties and also not being able to explain the hope and desire to push forward in a time where it’d be easier to sit things out.
Musically, the band has continued down their experimental tangent we first saw with “House of Cards”. Synths are more prominent this time around (and a central part of “NO TIME”). Things feel a bit poppier overall, though not to any sort of detriment. These are certainly the most palatable songs the group has released to date, with the band taking a more minimalist approach to songwriting so that every second truly counts – and there is certainly no time to waste here, no pun intended. While the group’s first LP was grounded in solid hard rock and post-hardcore and the EP played a bit more off alt-rock influences, this EP shows a new direction altogether. Certainly, New Language is still a rock band – but subgenre labels feel less apt to describe the core of what this band is crafting. At the end of the day, EP1_2020 is a fresh set of timely tracks that glimmer with perseverance and fortitude in an uncertain age, and that’s worth plenty all on its own.
“We were always waiting for the shoe to drop, Here it is.”
Chattanooga’s Cloud Caverns has been crafting intimate, progressive folk for the better part of a decade now. Manned by Brandon Peterson, with intermittent friends lending assistance, the project has three full-length albums under its belt. More recently, Cloud Caverns has been releasing singles in anticipation of a new new full-length album.
Never shy to the discomforts of political corruption, disillusionment, and the the simple (yet unrelenting) pains of life, Peterson pens visceral songs that are poetic without being esoteric: they’re songs that frame the common threads of life in a way that manage to make something beautiful out of a reality that is often harsh.
We’re excited to debut Cloud Caverns’ latest single, “The Eleventh Hour Effort”. It’s a particularly timely song given the current health crisis. While the song’s lyrics speak of a house literally collapsing, it’s a state that many of us are experiencing emotionally. We are inside the house, it is sinking, and we’re not sure what to do. But the song is not prescriptive, instead slyly remarking, “That’s just life, is that right?”
All of this is juxtaposed against an otherwise upbeat sonic landscape, with prominent use of flute-like synth tones. It’d be easy to lose the serious undertones of the lyrics with a casual listen. It feels warm and playful, a nice change of pace for a project known to oscillate between intense alt-rock and spacious acoustic arrangements.