D.K. – Eighteen Movements
D.K.‘s Eighteen Movements is a great live set of music recorded between 2017-2019. Here, tribal beats combine with ambient sounds to create a unique listening experience that is soothing yet interesting enough to not lull the average listener to sleep. Hipster coffee shop, bookstore, and cannabis shop owners, play this one for your customers; research indicates at least a 7% sales increase. I guarantee your guests will inquire about the amazing tunes permeating the atmosphere, at which point you can direct their attention to some choice dab rigs or the latest tearjerker by Nicholas Sparks.
Eighteen Movements is quite hypnotic and very foreign and exotic-sounding for those in the west – there’s a definite Asian presence, which adds to the beauty. You may feel like you’re strolling down the crowded streets of Bangkok, but without the fetid odors of a busy metropolitan – nah, man, this one here is all aromatic pad thai noodles, coriander, and sweet burning incense. This music is purely blissed-out, bizarre, and sure to fascinate everyone who is fortunate enough to discover it. – Scott Zanassi
Dogleg – Melee
If you haven’t heard of Dogleg yet, then it is surely only because of the pandemic. If this were any other year, the Michigan band would’ve been kicking ass all around the western world, playing their debut album Melee to fans who would likely have had their skulls caved in by the end – and would want to tell the whole world about it.
The comparisons to At The Drive-In are warranted, since they’re working in the same milieu and Alex Stoitsiadis’ voice is reminiscent of Cedric Bixler-Savala’s, but Dogleg swerve the more portentous aspects of the Texas legends and just want to expend energy and have a shit ton of fun. The album title Melee is indicative, as Dogleg create dynamic, propulsive and moreover physical hardcore/emo music – something the band seem well aware of, given the titles of their songs also describe acts that listening to their music makes you want to do: “Kawasaki Backflip”, “Headfirst”, “Cannonball”. Let’s hope that 2021 might be the year when we all get to jump around like lunatics attempting these moves together at their shows. – Rob Hakimian
Erland Cooper – Hether Blether
The final album in Erland Cooper‘s trilogy of tributes to the islands of his birth, Hether Blether moves from the wildlife and ocean to the native people of Orkney.
It’s only right, then, that it boasts by far the most vocals of the three, whether sung by himself or spoken by others. It maintains its predecessors’ ambient sensibilities, but bursts ever further into emotive, grand gestures, even boasting some moments of serene, heartfelt (relatively speaking) pop. This is perhaps best exemplified by “Peedie Breeks”, his collaboration with fellow Brit musician Benge, which presents the most beautiful single song the man has ever put to record. Absolutely essential human music for a year with for too little humanity. – Chase McMullen
GAIDAA – Overture EP
[On The Webs]
Netherlands-based singer-songwriter GAIDAA is still early in her career, but her first EP, Overture, sounds more like the work of a seasoned musician coming into their prime, rather than one taking their first steps. The 8-track EP is lengthy enough to be considered an album and is incredibly precise in its direction and execution. The intoxicating mix of jazz-flecked soul, R&B, and hip-hop is both soul-soothing and defiant, and allows GAIDAA to showcase her exquisite talents as a singer and musician. Standout tracks like “Say Yes (Turquoise)” and “Stranger” are some of the best the genre has to offer in 2020, and they weave in meaningful guest features from artists like SABA and Joshua J. The level of confidence GAIDAA displays for a debut EP is impressive to say the least, and primes her to be an unforgettable talent going forward. – Grady Penna
The Homesick – The Big Exercise
On their second album, Dutch trio The Homesick go from being a post-punk band in sound to one in spirit. The Big Exercise is an album filled with medieval marches and baroque chamber arrangements, experimentations new to a band unleashing the studio potential on songs they’d been playing live. Opener “What’s In Store” starts with gentle piano keys and a water stream that could soundtrack a pasture at dawn. Album closer “Male Bonding” moves from pulsing krautrock to screaming metal to prancing medieval playfulness – and not only does this seemingly absurd genre-hopping succeed, it’s also the album’s best track. In-between, listeners get everything from clarinet solos (“I Celebrate My Fantasy”) to more conventional, albeit no less crafted, indie rock (“Leap Year”).
Yet for all the experimentation, it’s impossible to ignore that members Jaap van der Velde, Erik Woudwijk, and Elias Elgersma are also having a lot of fun. They engage in call-and-response on the jubilant “Kaïn” and the scrappier “Leap Year” (listeners might recall early Animal Collective at times). Their lyrics document childhood memories (“Male Bonding”) as much as existential crises (“Leap Year”). All of which is to say listeners can’t really put a label to The Big Exercise, or The Homesick for that matter. Again, that’s exactly the point. – Carlo Thomas
Imperial Triumphant – Alphaville
You don’t have to look hard to find a bristling hot take article comparing America of 2020 to the Weimarer Republik. People are spooked, and our everyday life looks like it’s slipping further into the absurdist aesthetics of cyberpunk with every coming day. In that, Imperial Triumphant‘s Alphaville feels only logical. With its wild mixture of black metal and jazz, fuelled by some truly weird avant garde rock influences (one of the two bonus tracks is a cover of The Residents), it almost feels like the type of record we only come across in wyrd dreams.
Where the New York natives’ last album Vile Luxury seemed to function as a roadmap of dystopian fiction and haunted geography, Alphaville aims at creating a soundtrack fitting for the angular designs of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. The art nouveau decadence of the band flipping a black metal song on its head and indulging in arabesque jazz interludes or cultish afro-beats conveys the image of masked strangers summoning images of urban machine-cities where bubbles of cultural heritage dwell just below the surface. Some of them might be friendly, others probably will attempt to feed you to their great god Moloch. What else could be more current? – John Wohlmacher
Irene & Seulgi – Monster
With key member Wendy sidelined by a tragic injury, it’s been a strange, hard year for Red Velvet, even removed from the dumpster fire that has been 2020 overall. Unable to perform as a full unit, a side project was a natural outlet. With Yeri focusing on her own activities and Joy remaining, well, a joy, Irene & Seulgi banded together via their natural chemistry and close friendship for a duo.
The resulting Monster mini album ranks among the very best of their larger group’s output, albeit with a harder, even smoother and more finely-tuned edge. This is K-pop for adults, with verve, confidence, and enough poise to make a runway full of professionals envious. Add in the knowing winks towards Red Velvet’s queer fanbase (I mean, just look at that cover art, let alone the title track’s brilliant video), and you have an incredibly meaningful and focused R&B salvo. – Chase McMullen
Jason Molina – Eight Gates
It’s been seven years since Jason Molina’s untimely passing, and the chances of an unreleased Songs: Ohia or Magnolia Electric Co. album ever surfacing seem to be entirely gone. That we received Eight Gates is a minor miracle in itself, but the decision to release it under Molina’s given name is telling: you shouldn’t expect the dynamic folk-rock of his main output here. Instead, what we have is a snapshot of a very specific time from the songwriter’s life, with a bunch of demos and half-constructed songs from a period he spent in Europe. It’s only 26 minutes, and in that time are a couple of little snippets of him chatting, so the actual music is fairly limited, but tracks like “Shadow Answers The Wall” and “Thistle Blue” are worth the price of admission. Overall, Eight Gates is more of an ‘in memoriam’ for one of America’s fallen and underappreciated greats, and if it diverts us back into listening to his impressive back catalogue (or even allows some to discover it for the first time), then it’s an extremely worthy release. – Rob Hakimian
Johanna Warren – Chaotic Good
Johanna Warren’s latest album, Chaotic Good, can come off a bit unassuming at first. Opening track “Rose Potion” is a softly-strummed, serene folk tune – but it’s as a red herring. Throughout the record, Warren turns herself inside-out, revealing a bed of bubbling emotions that translate into a collection of highly potent songs. At times, she recalls the late Elliott Smith (“Bed of Nails”, “Part of It”, “Every Death”) but doesn’t pigeonhole herself into becoming a mere facsimile of the legendary folk artist. “Thru Yr Teeth” differentiates itself by exuding a country swagger, while “Only the Truth” is a powerful yet gradually unfurling piano ballad. Warren’s stirring and often dark imagery is matched by a fierce commitment to her craft as a musician and songwriter, and doesn’t just demand your attention, but earns it. – Grady Penna
Jonathan Personne – Disparitions
Although it’s by no means a premiere, the new album from Canadian musician and Corridor member Jonathan Personne hits with the purity and freshness of a first dip in a brand new body of water. Disparitions, released in August via Montreal label Michel Records, gathers a collection of hypnotising tracks as sweet as the most dangerous poison. Comparisons to both The Velvet Underground and Fleet Foxes have often been made (and are somewhat understandable throughout), but Disparitions is neither as kraut nor as bucolic; the album proposes a gentle journey with loads of addictive touchstones (“Terre Des Hommes” and “Springsteen” emerge as definite highlights) and invites us to get lost in its meandering woods. – Ana Leorne
Katie Malco – Failures
Songwriters with good voices and the ability to combine them with catchy riffs aren’t too uncommon, but when one comes along that is a cut above the crowd, it’s hard not to get addicted. Such is the case with Failures, the debut album from Northampton’s Katie Malco. Trailing through memories she’d rather forget, her debut album is emotionally messy and unhealthy, but musically it’s tight and impressive. While she kicks off Failures with gusto, writing one of the pop-rock blasters of the year with “Animal”, the more resonant numbers are where she gets to use her exquisite voice with delicate chords to work through some deep-set emotional issues. These involve losing her best friend as she moved across the ocean, drifting away from a long-term partner, and her own trouble with drinking to bury her true feelings. Despite the weight of these topics, there is a joy in the way Malco sets them to song, and through her open-hearted playing and singing, you can hear her overcoming her past in real time. – Rob Hakimian
The Koreatown Oddity – Little Dominique’s Nosebleed
Something like a hip hop John Darnielle, The Koreatown Oddity has been pumping out lo-fi tapes and the like for years now, but Little Dominique’s Nosebleed was a massive leap forward for the prolific artist. Deeply personal and fully-realized, the album digs into its creator’s childhood, coming to represent life for all too many underprivileged, minority youths. Taking our (lack of) a fair healthcare system, the corrupt police, and far more to task, all while consistently maintaining a keen sense of humor, this ranks among the year’s very most essential hip hop music. – Chase McMullen
Listen to our track choices in the Spotify playlist.