Posts Tagged ‘Best Albums Of 2020’

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Once Wayne Coyne saw Runnin’ Down a Dream, a 2007 documentary on Tom Petty, he became fixated on a stop Tom Petty made through Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1974 and his recording in that city with the earliest inception of the Heartbreakers—along with Belmont Tench and Mike Campbell—as Mudcrutch.  Manoeuvering through imagined scenarios and what-ifs, the Flaming Lips frontman became caught in some imaginary realm between his Oklahoma upbringing, the current state of America, and an imaginary jam session with the late rock legend. Imagine if the Lips were a local Oklahoma band that befriended Petty in his pre-Heartbreakers days—or what if Tom and company were pulled into the seedier side of Tulsa, shifting the course of rock history as we know it?

Running down a rabbit hole of reflections, the Lips’ sixteenth album “American Head” drifts through the singer’s wild imagination, exploring addiction and mental health in its drug-induced Americana. “As we destroy our brains / ’Til we believe we’re dead / It’s the American dream,” Coyne sings on “At the Movies on Quaaludes” before the more revelatory “Now I see the sadness in the world / I’m sorry I didn’t see it before” on “Mother I’ve Taken LSD.” Following up  Lip$haa proposed 2014 album with Kesha, and collaborating on the psych-pop experiment Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz in 2015, for American Head, the Lips cozied up to Kacey Musgraves for some feminine texture on three of the record’s tracks. Only The Flaming Lips could conjure up their American Head narrative, mixing loosely based recollections, romanticized tales…and the state of the country as we think we know it.

American Legends The Flaming Lips are pleased to announce the release of their 21st studio album, American Head released on September 11th via Bella Union. The album is comprised of thirteen new cinematic tracks, produced by long time collaborator Dave Fridmann and The Lips. Among them, “God and the Policeman” featuring backing vocals from country superstar Kasey Musgraves. American Head takes on a welcome temporal shift that occupies a similar space to that of The Soft Bulletin or Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots and just may be their most beautiful and consistent work to date

American Head finds The Flaming Lips basking in more reflective lyrical places as Wayne Coyne explains in a longer form story titled “We’re An American Band.”  Excerpt below:

The Flaming Lips are from Oklahoma. We never thought of ourselves as a band. I know growing up (when I was like 6 or 7 years old) in Oklahoma I was never influenced by, or was very aware of any musicians from Oklahoma. We mostly listened to the Beatles and my mother loved Tom Jones (this is in the 60’s)… it wasn’t till I was about 10 or 11 that my older brothers would know a few of the local musician dudes.

So… for most of our musical life (as The Flaming Lips starting in 1983) we’ve kind of thought of ourselves as coming from ‘Earth’… not really caring Where we were actually from. So for the first time in our musical life we began to think of ourselves as ‘AN AMERICAN BAND’… telling ourselves that it would be our identity for our next creative adventure. We had become a 7-piece ensemble and were beginning to feel more and more of a kinship with groups that have a lot of members in them. We started to think of classic American bands like The Grateful Dead and Parliament-Funkadelic and how maybe we could embrace this new vibe.

The music and songs that make up the American Head album are based in a feeling. A feeling that, I think, can only be expressed through music and songs. We were, while creating it, trying to NOT hear it as sounds… but to feel it. Mother’s sacrifice, Father’s intensity, Brother’s insanity, Sister’s rebellion…I can’t quite put it into words.

Something switches and others (your brothers and sisters and mother and father…your pets) start to become more important to you…in the beginning there is only you… and your desires are all that you can care about…but… something switches.. I think all of these songs are about this little switch.”

The Flaming Lips return on Bella Union Records with American Head, their 21st studio album. They’ve pulled off a masterstroke here, it retains all of their bubbling psychedelics, whilst sounding more introspective or reflective than they have in years. It’s a cracking set of songs and very pretty too.

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Lanterns On The Lake‘s Hazel Wilde has spoken to NME about their nomination for Hyundai Mercury Prize. The Newcastle band have scored their first Mercury nod with their acclaimed fourth album ‘Spook The Herd’ – which sees them employing their unique brand of atmospheric indie to dissect the hell-scape that we’re all living through. Rising nationalism and entire countries being let down by their leaders are all pertinent themes on the record, but they are always tackled with a degree of impressive subtlety.

“We never do sit down and say ‘this is what we’re going to write a record about’, because it feel too forced and not natural,” said Wilde.

“But that stuff, climate change and global politics is just what you see when you’re flicking through the news. Those things are on my mind and they’re the things we talk about as a band. It seeps into the music.” She continued: “We’re not political with a ‘capital P’ in the songs, but not in a social commentary kind of way – it’s a personal point of view. We’re not trying to lecture anybody or proclaim that we’ve got the big answers to massive questions. It’s coming from the point of view of people who are just living in these weird times.”

“We’ve just discovered that there’s been a big leak in our rehearsal room and a load of stuff is knackered. It would come in pretty useful for that! But we’re not thinking of the winnings – we’re just chuffed to be on the shortlist and have the album heard by more people,” Hazel explained.

And while fans had to wait five years for the arrival of ‘Spook The Herd’, it seems that the follow-up could be here sooner than expected. She added: “I’m really itching to get started on the next one. We do have a few ideas that we started on, but that had to take a backseat at the start of this lockdown. I’m itching to just getting cracking on the next one, I’m sure it will find its own way.”

Mercury Prize nominees Lanterns on the Lake released a live rendition of their beguiling track When It All Comes True ahead of their album and had us hooked. Of the track vocalist Hazel Wilde says: ‘Sometimes when you write a song you are creating a world in the same way a film maker or an artist painting a scene would. This is a twisted coming-of-age love story where we’re let in on the thoughts of what seems like a deranged narrator with a premonition.’

“Spook the Herd” was the fourth studio album to come from Lanterns on the Lake. It was released on 28th February 2020 under Bella Union Records.

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When the Covid-19 pandemic hit the U.S., Chastity Belt’s Annie Truscott descended into a state of mourning. Her plan had been to join her partner, Jay Som’s Melina Duterte, as violinist on tour, a privilege rarely afforded since both maintain busy road schedules, and for Truscott, the prospect of spending most of the year in a van wasn’t met with exhaustion so much as exhilaration. At long last, she’d be making a living playing music, no side hustle needed. The cancellation of the tour represented a side lined dream.

Routine was born of this disappointment. Like the phoenix rising from the ashes, Truscott and Duterte’s collaborative project offers a glimpse of the creative possibilities that can emerge from a state of defeat. Written and recorded over the course of a month in Joshua Tree, Routine’s lush debut EP And Other Things finds the couple trying on new roles. Truscott, who plays bass in Chastity Belt, wrote the bulk of the material and sings on the EP, while Duterte, normally a band leader, used the project as an opportunity to, in her words, “Take the backseat,” as accompanist, producer, and engineer.

Duterte describes the making of the EP as “seamless.” In the mornings, Truscott sat outside of the cabin in the not-yet-blazing sun and worked out chord progressions on guitar while Duterte slept in. Staring out at the horizon, Truscott could see a smattering of houses and the sharp outline of a mountain range, but overall the property felt remote, far removed from home in Los Angeles. On long walks Truscott admired the recently bloomed spring flowers and pondered the legacy of friendships and experiences that made her. “I spend a lot of my time thinking about the people who’ve impacted my life,” she says. “Routine gave me an opportunity to explore those relationships through music.”

It was on one of these walks that Truscott began writing Cady Road, a contemplative, country-tinged pop song that urges listeners to sit in the discomfort of the present moment. “Relax / It’s fine / You don’t have to know this time,” Truscott sings on the chorus, reflecting on the un-suredness that gripped her in those early days of the pandemic. Duterte joins in harmony, giving a song about being alone with your thoughts a collaborative dimension. “In Annie’s songs I hear a yearning for something just out of reach, something unachievable,” Duterte says. “She’s such a great singer, so it felt good to just layer instruments to make her vision for it feel fully fleshed out.” That impulse is heard vividly on Cady Road, where an abundant arrangement accompanies Truscott, replete with the spry notes of a banjolele.

A true collaboration requires trust, intimacy, and patience, three elements that cohered almost mystically in the process of making this EP. “Melina is the most calming presence. She’s so good at sitting with silences in a conversation and just observing,” Truscott says. The quality not only makes Duterte a good partner, but also a good bandmate and producer. Calm and Collected is a tribute to that enviable ability to maintain serenity amidst the chaos of experience. Though it was written in Joshua Tree, Duterte and Truscott recorded it in the attic of their home in LA, where Duterte set up a studio in the free time afforded by the pandemic. The song is the quietest of the collection, a gentle ode underscored by atmospheric swaths of synth that swaddle the listener.

“I think of And Other Things as a series of vignettes,” Truscott says. “We aren’t telling one story here, we’re telling a series of short stories that people can hopefully relate to.” Asked how it feels to offer the EP up to the world during a time of major uncertainty in the music industry, Truscott offers only one word: “Cathartic.”

The 5 Best Roots Releases From July 2020

Margo Price’s album is the work of a singer ready to shake up preconceived notions. The Nashville musician has been doing that all along to a degree, but That’s How Rumors Get Started is a conscious—and sometimes self-conscious step out from under the shadow of all the “bright future of country music” buzz that surrounded her previous solo work. That’s How Rumors Get Started is Price’s third LP as a solo artist, after three previous albums fronting the Nashville band Buffalo Clover. If that group had a shaggy late-’60s blues-rock bent à la Big Brother and the Holding Company, Price certainly leaned more toward the sound of fiddles and pedal steel guitar on Midwest Farmer’s Daughter in 2016 and All American Made in 2017. The latter even featured a duet with Willie Nelson. This time around, there’s as much blustery rock and hard-edged soul as there is country twang. Margo Price has paid her dues, both professionally and personally. Whereas she honours those challenges, she rejects singularity as the underlying factor in defining her music and identity. In That’s How Rumors Get Started, Price reimagines Americana’s sound as well as her position within the genre.

Some of that change is probably due to Price’s old pal Sturgill Simpson, who produced the album and assembled a band to play on it, in place of Price’s usual road band. On the other hand, the mix of sounds is more in line with what Price presents onstage in concert. When it works here, she demonstrates a certain amount of breadth as a performer. Yet it doesn’t always work. There’s a difference between upending expectations and contrarian posturing, and the song writing on That’s How Rumors Get Started isn’t consistently sharp enough to strike the right balance. Price goes for broad strokes on these 10 songs, musically and lyrically.

“That’s How Rumors Get Started”, an album of ten new, original songs that commit her sky-high and scorching rock-and-roll show to record for the very first time. Produced by long time friend Sturgill Simpson (co-produced by Margo and David Ferguson), the LP marks Price’s debut for Loma Vista Recordings, and whether she’s singing of motherhood or the mythologies of stardom, Nashville gentrification or the national healthcare crisis, relationships or growing pains, she’s crafted a collection of music that invites people to listen closer than ever before.

Margo primarily cut That’s How Rumors Get Started at Los Angeles’ EastWest Studios (Pet Sounds, “9 to 5”). Tracking occurred over several days while she was pregnant with daughter Ramona. “They’re both a creation process,” she says. “And I was being really good to my body and my mind during that time. I had a lot of clarity from sobriety.”

While Margo Price continued to collaborate on most of the song writing with her husband Jeremy Ivey, she recorded with an historic band assembled by Sturgill, and including guitarist Matt Sweeney (Adele, Iggy Pop), bassist Pino Palladino (D’Angelo, John Mayer), drummer James Gadson (Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye), and keyboardist Benmont Tench (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers). Background vocals were added by Simpson on “Letting Me Down,” and the Nashville Friends Gospel Choir, who raise the arrangements of “Hey Child” and “What Happened To Our Love?” to some of the album’s most soaring heights.

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Margo Price and her steady touring band – Kevin Black (bass), Jamie Davis (guitar), Micah Hulsher (keys), and Dillon Napier (drums) – will perform songs from That’s How Rumors Get Started at dozens of shows with Chris Stapleton and The Head & The Heart this spring and summer, in addition to festival appearances and more to be announced soon.

“That’s How Rumors Get Started” follows Margo’s 2017 album All American Made, which was named the #1 Country/Americana album of the year by Rolling Stone, and one of the top albums of the decade by Esquire, Pitchfork and Billboard, among others. In its wake, Margo sold out three nights at The Ryman Auditorium, earned her first Grammy nomination for Best New Artist, and much more.
Released July 10th, 2020

New album, “That’s How Rumors Get Started” out now

When Stephen Malkmus first arrived on the scene in the early Nineties, as frontman and prime creative force in Pavement, the area of music with which he was associated couldn’t really have been further from the techno-rave sounds of the day. Electronic dance music, then as now, was about posthuman precision, inorganic textures, and hyper-digital clarity. Whereas the lo-fi movement in underground rock championed a messthetic of sloppiness, rough edges, and raw warmth – a hundred exquisitely subtle shades of distortion and abrasion. “Imperfect sound forever” was the rallying cry for a micro-generation of slacker-minded dreamers and misfits.

For his third record in as many years, the sometimes Pavement frontman chills out, unplugs and delivers a record of stoner folk-inspired songs that are among his most direct, affecting to date. For a guy who’s been known for 30 years primarily as a musician who is, at times, too clever for his own good, Malkmus shows real heart here.

While associated with staunch indie rock snobbery, Stephen Malkmus has long dabbled in jam band territory, all the way back to Pavement’s final album, Terror Twilight. (Before? Maybe.) So when he announced Traditional Techniques, his third album in three years, as “stoner folk” it wasn’t really as much of a stretch as Matador may have wanted you to believe. At least not in that way. It is, however, his quietest, most introspective and straight-from-the-heart record he’s ever made.

To call Stephen Malkmus’ Traditional Techniques an “acoustic record” wouldn’t be inaccurate, but it doesn’t quite capture the sonic expanse of this midcareer gem. “ACC Kirtan,” “Xian Man,” and “Brainwashed” unfurl into psychedelic sprawl, while elsewhere Malkmus takes his 12-string toward country-rock, or classic folk, or surrounds it with woodwinds, drums, and string instruments from Africa and the Middle East. Traditional Techniques revels in the gray space between frank and enigmatic, whether exploring love and friendship, or in yarns about propane smugglers or the extremely online. “May the word be spread via cracked emoji,” Malkmus sings on “Shadowbanned” — it’s unclear what exactly that may mean, but like the best, inscrutable Malkmus lines, it rings true.

Stephen presents “Juliefuckingette,” an A-side-worthy B-side off of Traditional Techniques. Additionally, he announces a rescheduled North American tour (See below for the full dates).
As with Traditional Techniques, “Juliefuckingette” is new phase folk music for new phase folks. Malkmus’ wry lyricism unwinds over his 12-string acoustic guitar: “Abolish the fanfiction set // I don’t wanna clean up the logorrhea mess // It’s the last brand standing // You know you wanna kill it but you can’t kill that quite yet.”

Told Slant, is the solo project of Brooklyn songwriter Felix Walworth, is releasing a new album, “Point the Flashlight and Walk”, out on November 13th via Double Double Whammy. Following previous singles “Family Still,” “No Backpack and “Run Around the School,” Walworth shared “Whirlpool” this month. It’s a bare track centered on acoustic guitar rhythms and the precious, yet often tragic idea of what it is to really know a person. Told Slant is the solo recording project of Brooklyn songwriter Felix Walworth (they/them). Known for their bare, down-tempo, guitar-driven arrangements and understated lyricism, Walworth is their first album in four years, Point The Flashlight and Walk.

On Told Slant’s third full-length and most complex work to date, Walworth uses Point The Flashlight and Walk to explore the limits of devotion. How deeply can one sublimate themselves through devotion to another? What is lost and gained when that devotion is ruptured?. The album weaves through hypnotic rhythms, tumbling piano, and delicate harp, continuously complemented by Walworth’s keen ability to evoke tangible intimacy through vocals and unconventional percussion. Tracks like “Family Still” and “No Backpack” dive headfirst into the theme of devotion and encapsulate the graceful and layering arrangements that shine through the album. It’s an adventurous and personal collection of songs, employing new instruments and avoiding the song structures Told Slant fans are used to. The album title itself becomes a repeated mantra for the listener by the third track “Flashlight On.”

Written and recorded in solitude in their bedroom, the creative process of making the record mirrors its narrative subject; the result being a layered arrangement built from the bottom up through experimentation, failure, failure, more failure, and inspiration.

“Family Still” is a poetic exploration of interpersonal dynamics. “Power isn’t taking / It’s making you give in freely / And I hope you don’t come home / and think it’s enough to be near me,” Felix Walworth sings in a gentle tone on this single from Told Slant’s latest album Point The Flashlight and Walk. This layered acoustic track excels in its dissection of the complicated shades of intimacy: “What can be said of desire / when every longing instilled in my heart was instilled in such a violent world?”

Told Slant – “Whirlpool” Directed by V Haddad Shot by Emily Sprague Preorder Told Slant’s “Point The Flashlight And Walk” on Double Double Whammy . Told Slant is a bedroom punk band from New York, the music of Felix Walworth.

Told Slant is now: Felix Walworth, Oliver Kalb, Gabrielle Smith, Emily Sprague. Told Slant’s third album, “Point The Flashlight And Walk”, is out November 13th, 2020.

Post-hardcore band Touché Amoré released their long-awaited fifth studio album “Lament” via Epitaph Records. The album is produced by Ross Robinson, who’s worked with Glassjaw, Slipknot and Korn. Lead single “Limelight,” which features Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull, is as chaotic as Touché’s other songs, though it’s quiet at first, with Bolm’s scratchy vocals making the most noise. Hull’s silky vocals are a great addition to the post-hardcore/emo mess. Touché Amoré’s last studio album was 2016’s critically-acclaimed Stage Four, which reckoned with the death of frontman Jeremy Bolm’s mother. It was powerful and evocative, and Bolm’s poetic lyricism resonated with many. Since then, they re-recorded their album “To the Beat of a Dead Horse”, and they released a live album and some one-off singles.

After extensively grieving his mother on 2016’s Stage Four, Touché Amoré singer Jeremy Bolm just wanted to move on. As Lament makes clear, though, it wasn’t that easy. “It’s not how it was, but it’s not getting lighter,” he yells on “Limelight,” the album’s soaring lead single. Bolstered by an extensive recording session with legendary nü-metal producer Ross Robinson, Touché Amoré fine-tune their trademark brand of post-hardcore on Lament and make every note serve a purpose, from the enormous “Deflector” to the tenderhearted “I’ll Be Your Host.” Bolm may not feel like he’s basking in sunshine just yet, but by the sound of Lament, he’s found the next best thing: the promising warmth of a sunrise and the glimmer of determination that comes with it.

It’s October 9th which means “Lament” is officially out worldwide. We’ve been working on this album on and off for a couple years now and for it to be finally out feels extremely gratifying. Working with Ross Robinson was a dream and a privilege we don’t take for granted. He taught us new things about ourselves every step of the way and this album wouldn’t be what it is if it wasn’t for his most sincere devotion to every decibel of sound any of us made from an incorrect note, embarrassing voice crack or getting something just right. We can’t thank the hard working people at epitaph enough for indulging all our wild ideas with vinyl packaging / flexis / music videos and more. Andy Hull, Julien Baker and Justice Tripp for lending us your voices however big or small, we understand that finding the time and energy in the times we are living in can feel like monumental tasks so to have your energy and grace on this album is something we’ll cherish forever.

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Last but not least thank you to the kindness, patience, and understanding of those who have purchased the LP, streamed the album, or shared a kind word about its release. Following Stage Four wasn’t an easy task and often felt unachievable. We are so proud of Lament and we hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed making it.  Seldom can a band evolve so organically and still remain relevant,

The sound of pure anguish with a glint of hope.

Released October 9th, 2020
The Band:
Jeremy Bolm – Vocals
Clayton Stevens – Guitar
Nick Steinhardt – Guitar
Elliot Babin – Drums
Tyler Kirby – Bass

All songs written by Touché Amoré except * Written by Touché Amoré & John Andrew Hull

“Limelight” (feat. Manchester Orchestra) by Touché Amoré from the album ‘Lament,’ available now

The title track of Phoebe Bridgers’ second album pokes fun at the oblivious fan who, at a concert, will linger at the merch table for too long. Bridgers knows she could easily fill the role, too. “If Elliott Smith were alive, I probably wouldn’t have been the most fun person for him to talk to,” she told The New Yorker. “So I wrote that as if I were the punisher.” The record is the folk singer’s follow-up to 2017’s “Stranger in the Alps”, and her first solo project since she recorded with Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker as boygenius and dueted with Conor Oberst as Better Oblivion Community Center.

On “Moon Song,” one of many standout tracks on Phoebe Bridgers’ new album, Punisher, Bridgers sings, “We hate ‘Tears in Heaven,’ but it’s sad that his baby died/ We fought about John Lennon until I cried.” These lines illustrate one of this album’s greatest strengths—while many records are emotionally resonant but emotionally one-note, “Punisher” is always as complex as it is resonant, unsatisfied with easy answers. The couplet wrestles with the conflicted nature of relationships, both between the speaker and another person and between the speaker and music itself. Like much of the record, the song is simultaneously tender, darkly funny, and mournful.

It’s a lot to take in. And just as we’re processing the weight of these lines, Bridgers whisks us away into a vivid dream: “You’re singing at my birthday/ I’ve never seen you smiling so big/ It’s nautical themed/ And there’s something I’m supposed to say.” Punisher, richly produced and beautiful throughout—complete with lush guitars, synth textures, swelling strings, and 2000s indie-rock horns—is a joy to listen to, but it takes some time to truly sink its claws in, revealing the depth of its humour and sadness. Certain lines kept swirling around in my head after the third listen: the one about whether Elvis “believed songs could come true” off “Graceland Too” or the moment when Bridgers sings, “I’m not afraid of hard work” on “Garden Song,” the album’s lead single.

“Garden Song” may be the most familiar song to fans of Bridgers’ first record, Stranger in the Alps—its slow, stately pace, its guitar picking and ethereal atmosphere, and, most importantly, its lyrics, which create their own self-sustaining universe. Like a faded memory or a rear-view vision of childhood, it’s a world that is at once familiar and strange, a tale of wrong, ghosts, healing, and the work of making things, if not right, then more whole. Bridgers’ voice is joined on the chorus by Bridgers’ tour manager Jeroen Vrijhoef’s resonant bass vocals. Elsewhere on the record, we hear Conor Oberst on “Halloween” and “I Know the End,” Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus on “Graceland Too” and “I Know the End,” along with many others.

The record is a triumph of collaboration, but it is always guided by Bridgers’ vision. Punisher was co-produced by Bridgers this time aroundalongside Tony Berg and Ethan Gruska, who produced Stranger in the Alps—and at every point Punisher is more expansive than its predecessor, both in terms of its instrumentation and its songcraft. Classic Phoebe Bridgers slow-burners like “Garden Song” and “Halloween,” which recall her mostly downtempo debut, float alongside uptempo tracks like “Kyoto” and “I See You,” which reflect Bridgers’ fantastic indie rock collaborations, both as one-third of boygenius and one-half of Better Oblivion Community Center. The dynamic variation on Punisher is one of its greatest strengths. Although the downtempo tracks still set the tone, the addition of tracks like “Kyoto” keeps listeners on their toes.

Punisher, as punishing as it can be, is largely an affirming record. (Apparently, the title refers to the kind of fan who stays at the merch table way too long.) There’s an existential kind of determination to it, perhaps best embodied on “Chinese Satellite,” a moving meditation on doubt, faith, and loss: “Took a tour out to see the stars/ But they weren’t out tonight/ So I wished hard on a Chinese satellite/ I want to believe/ Instead I look at the sky and I feel nothing.” A classic story of spiritual desolation amid the disenchantment of modernity, perhaps. But when no star or God is forthcoming, artists latch on to what they see, forging their own spirituality, based on what symbols are available—in this case the satellite will have to do.

I tend to link the stubborn spirituality of this record, its determination to make beauty out of an ugly world, back to the album’s lead single, “Garden Song,” in particular to the line, “I’m not afraid of hard work,” as it relates to gardening, which is to say fostering life. The album’s closer, the shape-shifting “I Know the End” is as affirming as the apocalypse gets, beginning straightforwardly enough before settling into an incredibly cathartic build—complete with kick drums, horns, and screams—which busts the song wide open. It’s easily the most intense track on the album, but when all the instruments drop out and all that’s left is Bridgers’ voice, something between a death-metal scream and a low hiss, there’s a knowing playfulness to it. The humour that’s made her Twitter legendary often surfaces in Punisher’s heaviest moments, and maybe that’s part of what makes the album a source of hope rather than despair, for all its sorrow. In an interview with Amanda Petrusich in the lead-up to Punisher’s release, Bridgers joked, “Here’s my thing, for your emptiness.” Enjoy.

Dead Oceans released June 18th, 2020

Down in the Weeds

Sometimes it feels like you hear a Bright Eyes song with your whole body. From Conor Oberst’s early recordings in an Omaha basement in 1995 all the way up to 2020, Bright Eyes’ music tries to unravel the impossible tangles of dissent: personal and political, external and internal. It’s a study of the beauty in unsteadiness in all its forms – in a voice, beliefs, love, identity, and what fills up the spaces in-between. And in so many ways, it’s just about searching for a way through. When Bright Eyes announced their first new album since 2011, the media excitedly reported on the band’s reconciliation. But, in reality, Bright Eyes never really broke up. They wandered in different directions, sure, but there were no hard feelings. Gathering to record Down in the Weeds Where the World Once Was was a matter of good timing and schedules aligning. Frontman Conor Oberst suggested the idea for a new record at bandmate Nathaniel Walcott’s Christmas party in 2017, and the pair called the third member of their trio Mike Mogis from the bathroom to pitch the idea.

The year 2020 is full of significant anniversaries for Bright Eyes. Fevers and Mirrors was released 20 years ago this May, while Digital Ash in a Digital Urn and I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning both turned 15 years old in January. The latter, a singer-songwriter tour-de-force released amidst the Bush presidency and Iraq war, wades through incisive anti-war rhetoric and micro, intimate calamities. On the title track and throughout the record, Oberst sings about body counts in the newspaper, televised wars, the bottomless pit of American greed, struggling to understand the world alongside one’s own turmoil. In its own way, I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning carved out its place in the canon of great anti-war albums by being both present and prophetic, its urgency enduring 15 years later.

In 2011 the release of The People’s Key, Bright Eyes’ ninth and most recent album, ushered in an unofficial hiatus for the beloved project. In the time since, the work of the band’s core members – Oberst, multi-instrumentalist Mike Mogis, and multi-instrumentalist Nathaniel Walcott – has remained omnipresent, through both the members’ original work and collaboration.

In recent years, Mogis produced records for beloved folk acts First Aid Kit and Joseph, among others, as well as mixed the fine-spun ennui of Phoebe Bridgers’ breakthrough 2017 debut, Stranger in the Alps. Mogis and bandmate Walcott also teamed up to write the original scores for The Fault in Our Stars, Stuck in Love, and Lovely Still, and Walcott worked as a solo composer scoring number of independent feature-length films. Walcott spent extensive time on collaboration; in addition to his arrangement work for Mavis Staples, First Aid Kit, and M. Ward, he contributed studio work to artists ranging from U2 to jazz guitarist Jeff Parker, and also toured heavily as a member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Oberst, who’s nearly 30 years into a prolific musical career, spent the last decade in similarly productive fashion. Across three years he released a string of solo albums: Salutations (2017), Ruminations (2016), and Upside Down Mountain (2014), as well as guested on records by First Aid Kit, Phoebe Bridgers, and Alt-J. His punk band, Desaparecidos, emerged from a 13-year hiatus in 2015 with the thunderous sophomore LP, Payola, a white-knuckled disarray of hollered political fury. And at the top of 2019, Oberst and Bridgers debuted their new band, Better Oblivion Community Center, digitally dropping the critically-lauded eponymous debut LP alongside a surprise performance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

The heart at Bright Eyes’ songwriting still looms culturally, in films and TV shows and through re-imaginings by other artists. Mac Miller covered both Lua and First Day of My Life; Lorde’s version of the penultimate The People’s Key track, the funereal-waltz Ladder Song, was a focal point of The Hunger Games’ soundtrack; The Killers covered Four Winds for their Spaceman EP; and Lil Peep’s Worlds Away samples Something Vague while Young Thug’s Me Or Us samples First Day of My Life.

Bright Eyes’ expansive catalogue has traversed genre, sound, and countless players; unpolished demos or fuzzy folk, electrified rock or country twang. The sharp song writing and musicianship is all anchored in Bright Eyes’ singular ability to flip deep intimacy into something universal. For so many, for so long, listening to Bright Eyes has been like hearing yourself in someone else’s song – a moment of understanding or illumination, knowing you’re on the same team looking for a way to move through of all this shit.

And while 2020 is a year of milestones for the band, it’s also the year Bright Eyes returns, newly signed to indie label Dead Oceans. Amidst the current overwhelming uncertainty and upheaval of global and personal worlds, Oberst, Mogis, and Walcott reunited under the moniker as both an escape from, and a confrontation of, trying times. Getting the band back together felt right, and necessary, and the friendship at the core of the band has been a long time pillar of Bright Eyes’ output. For Bright Eyes, this long-awaited re-emergence feels like coming home.

They certainly did some of their best work on Down In The Weeds The album sounds undeniably like a Bright Eyes record, but it ebbs and flows with new anxieties and darknesses. Fans will delight in a true-to-style Bright Eyes record, but, at the same time, any music fan will be able to appreciate the gruesome grandeur of this folk-rock mastery.

Bright Eyes’s Down in the Weeds, Where the World Once Was feels less like a monumental happening and more like a seamless continuation, the sound of a band shrugging off a long hiatus and simply getting back to work. They’re still making deeply emotional indie rock songs, still flirting with the same grandiosity that helped cement the legacies of albums like Lifted and Fevers and Mirrors, and the songs still revolve around Conor Oberst’s warbling search for the reasons we insist on continuing to exist when the world quite frankly seems to be crumbling all around us. No matter how much time has passed, Bright Eyes continues to be unmatched at tackling the biggest questions with a profound, heart-wrenching intimacy.

If Lush measures a 2 on the Swervedriver-O-Meter and My Bloody Valentine a 7, Hum is a definate solid 9. Unlike most American disciples of the shoegaze boom, this Illinois-based band delivered metallic riffs — riffs sludgy and heavy enough to earn fans like Deftones (Chino Moreno famously cited the band as an influence), Deafheaven, and possibly other metal bands beginning with the letter “D. Where have this band been or what have they been doing all these years.

On Hum’s overdriven “Waves,” you can hear the windy central guitar line try to outdo itself in real time as their pedal-fiddling reaches life-affirming heights. Its mythical scale is only enhanced by lines of an apocalypse—but a calming and poetic one at that: “And the traces of morning will lead us to the end / Where the dying landscape meets the water / And the waves of you roll over me again.”

Hum’s appealing mix of fuzzy swirl, post-hardcore intensity, and interstellar imagery reached its peak on 1995’s You’d Prefer an Astronaut, which even produced a minor rock radio hit with “Stars.” The band’s brief major-label run concluded with 1998’s Downward Is Heavenward, which also seemed to be the end of the band’s recording career — until a month ago. Inlet, the band’s new, long-rumoured fifth album, evokes cosmic expanse with lengthy, extravagantly textured burners like “Desert Rambler” and “The Summoning.”

When an album this thick drops out of nowhere, it’s bound to reverberate. For years, Hum had been providing regular updates on their first album since 1998’s Downward Is Heavenward. Yet when Inlet emerged without an official announcement or rollout in June, it was the best kind of startling. An even better surprise: The album holds its own with the Illinois space-rockers’ best. Inlet is monolithic in its splendour, its dense, churning power-chord riffs glazed over with a faint hypnotic glimmer. Few artists measured up to its heaviness or its prettiness in 2020.

It doesn’t seem like a good idea for any band from the 90s to reemerge now, in 2020, with their first record in over two decades. So much has changed. But one incredible thing that happened this very strange year was that Hum yes, “Stars” Hum—dropped with an absolute banger of an album, their first in 22 years. In their earlier days, Hum were outsiders, never fully fitting into the boxes of alt-rock or shoegaze or grunge. But they influenced so many contemporary bands that now, they somehow feel more modern. Sculptural, exploratory, and meditative, Inlet is a continuation of a concept (perhaps most succinctly put, “space rock”) and an ambitious re-examination of the possibilities of texture. Proggy without being nerdy, hard without being not angry, and vast without being hollow, it’s a mushroom trip through the cosmos, from the oceanic opener “Waves” to the swirling “Step Into You,” which offers an escape to “a desert that blooms in our darkest days.” “I’m lost,” sighs singer and guitarist Matt Talbott. That’s fine; just take us with you

To date Hum has only made one album. So in terms of recent achievements, the wholly unexpected “Inlet”