Playlist: New tunes from 2020, part four

Good morning, good morning. I hope you’ve all had a wonderful holiday weekend and if you celebrate them, a merry Christmas and a fruitful Boxing day… well, as merry and as fruitful as possible, given the circumstances.

We’ve finally nearly reached the end of this crazy year 2020 (give yourselves a congratulatory pat on the back). We’re now just two days removed from New Year’s eve and the unveiling of my favourite album of the year, and here I am unleashing the fourth part of my ‘New tunes of 2020’ playlist series. This is the first time in the past three years of doing these playlist series that I’ve actually managed a fourth part, even though it has always been planned in the past. And this is only partially because of life getting in the way of my blogging and playlist creation fun. In reality, one of the biggest roadblocks to managing a fourth part for the fourth quarter has, in the past, been the lack of quality new releases. I’ve always found that the new music release calendar trails off a bit after November, brand new music giving way to reissues and best of compilations, just in time for Christmas giving.

I was more successful putting together this fourth playlist this year because I accepted these limitations and decided to make this a b-sides compilation of sorts. The first half of these tracks are new tunes that came out in October and the first half of November and the rest are tracks that didn’t make the cut, for one reason or another, for the first three playlists of this year but were still great enough to share. You may want to check out the other three mixes first (here, here, and here) but I think you’ll find this one just as excellent.

So let’s have a look at some of the highlights of this ‘b-side’ playlist:

      • “Hold my hand”, a raucous psych-rock mess by Death Valley Girls, aka a song pulled from the pages of a book called “Why haven’t I heard of this band before?”
      • A heavy-duty, jangly bundle of energy called “Love comes in waves” off the debut solo album by Ride’s Andy Bell
      • “Stay out”, a banjo barn stomper off “Keeper”, the latest album by Canadian alternative country trio Elliott Brood
      • Isobel Campbell’s soft touch cover of Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ down a dream”
      • A super fun, eighties throwback called “On division st.” by Brooklyn indie pop act, Nation of Language
      • “Vibrant colours”, the dreamy single off the debut album by new Canadian artist, Zoon, cheekily coined moccasin-gaze

For those who don’t use Spotify or if the embedded playlist below doesn’t work for you, here is the entire playlist as I’ve created it:

    1. “Hold my hand” Death Valley Girls (from the album Under the spell of joy)
    2. “Trade it” Slow Pulp (from the album Moveys)
    3. “Waving at the window” Travis (from the album 10 songs)
    4. “For sure” Future Islands (from the album As long as you are)
    5. “Impossible weight” Deep Sea Diver with Sharon Van Etten (from the album Impossible weight)
    6. “Worth it” beabadoobee (from the album Fake it flowers)
    7. “Distant axis” Matt Berninger (from the album Serpentine prison)
    8. “Say less” Nothing (from the album The great dismal)
    9. “Love comes in waves” Andy Bell (from the album The view from halfway down)
    10. “Stay out” Elliott Brood (from the album Keeper)
    11. “Weight of the world” 5 Billion In Diamonds (from the album Divine accidents)
    12. “Barcelona” Twin Atlantic (from the album Power)
    13. “Runnin’ down a dream” Isobel Campbell (from the album There is no other…)
    14. “Southwark” Yumi Zouma (from the album Truth or consequence)
    15. “Electric roses” Basia Bulat (from the album Are you in love?)
    16. “I got the hots for Charlie Watts” The Exbats (from the album Kicks, hits and fits)
    17. “What I’ve done to help” Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit (from the album Reunions)
    18. “Can’t get out” Woods (from the album Strange to explain)
    19. “Shake your diamonds” The Rentals (from the album Q36)
    20. “Chaos and confusion” Venus Furs (from the album Venus Furs)
    21. “Party with the kids who wanna party with you” Bad Moves (from the album Untenable)
    22. “The way things are” Porcelain Raft (from the album Come rain)
    23. “On Division st.” Nation Of Language (from the album Introduction, presence)
    24. “Bad girls forever” Pins (from the album Hot slick)
    25. “Vibrant colours” Zoon (from the album Bleached wavves)

And as I’ve said before, I’ll say again: Wherever you are in the world, I hope you are safe and continue to be well. Until next time, enjoy the tunes.

If you’re interested in checking out any of the other playlists I’ve created and shared on these pages, you can peruse them here.

Best albums of 2020: #2 I Break Horses “Warnings”

Back in June 2019, I wrote about I Break Horses when one of their tracks, “Winter beats”, from their debut album, “Horses”, appeared at the number eleven spot on my Best tunes of 2011 list. I wrote then that I didn’t know much about the Swedish duo of Maria Lindén and Fredrik Balck, except that I loved their shoegaze-inspired dreamscapes and that it had been a number of years since we had heard much more about them, their second and only other album having been released five years prior.

Then, earlier this year, there were rumblings on the internet that Maria Lindén was planning to release a new album under the I Break Horses name. There was even an advance single making the rounds. I didn’t immediately jump into the waters to take the temperature but when I saw that “Warnings” was on Spotify in May, I gave it a spin on my iPod while doing some chores around the house. I don’t think I was even halfway through the dramatic 9-minute opener, “Turn”, before I was surfing my way to the Bella Union website to order a copy of the album on vinyl. It wasn’t long after I received it and gave it a few goes on the turntable platter that I was already calling it an early favourite for best album of 2020. Well, as you can tell, it was beaten by one album, but only just.

On “Warnings”, Lindén has created a cinematic world all her own. She took her time with it, lived through it, and experienced a lot of heartache and setbacks to bring it to fruition. The album is almost a living and breathing thing, a far cry from her debut, which of course I still love, but its touchstones and influences were far more obvious. “Warnings” has both the makings of a celebratory party soundtrack and a night home with a good set of ear phones and a bottle of good red. And if you’re not careful, it will take you with it on a whole range of crushing emotions.

Indeed, “Warnings” is a whole, a world, a universe that should be taken together and I highly recommend doing so. But in the interest of time, I’ve agonized to select three picks for you to sample. Enjoy.

“Death engine“: The very first single released in advance of the album gave us fair warning of what we were in for, had we any wish to heed such a thing. It clocks in at well over seven and a half minutes and is a beast of a thing. An explosion of synths, layered in a patchwork over top each other, the most prominent one being a stomping and foreboding organism, reminiscent of something from a John Hughes teen angst film. It all marches unstoppably to an obvious and unavoidable end. The imagery is inherent and beautiful, Lindén’s voice a ringing knell that is still somehow uplifting and hopeful. She wrote the words to the song as a reflection on a “close friend’s suicide attempt” and the fact she read that suicide is the second leading cause of death in Generation Z. “You’ve run out of light and I’m out of sight. I’ve run out of time. We’re running out.”

“I’ll be the death of you”: “Honey I don’t mind running blind. You keep pushing on to get inside my mind. Don’t care what you find.” The second single to be released off the album is also one of the shorter tracks on the album. It starts off sounding a bit like I Break Horses of old, in particular, the aforementioned personal favourite, “Winter beats”: all textured and washed out synths that flash and pan like strobe lights. The dance floor madness continues but metamorphoses into a blooming flower, bursting with colour and fragrance. Lindén herself describes it as occupying a hazy middle ground between Screamdelica and early OMD. A “somewhat darker and more nihilistic approach to when passion takes a more eccentric turn”. For me, it is another four and half minutes of bliss, a foreboding of tragedy but getting caught up in the moment, the emotion, and not caring about the consequences. Love can be dangerous and bad for your health. But who would say no to that?

“Turn”: My final pick is track number one on the album, the one that had me sold on the album before I even got to the end of it. It’s a nine minute epic, and yeah, it’s a monster. It takes its time with you, teasing it out of you. Slow and plodding and methodical, the beat hits like your heart, skipping and pitter-pattering all over the place. The synths climb up and down your spine and back all the way up to the heavens. And Lindén is there with those haunting vocals of hers. “Turn. I can’t turn love around and I’m losing my mind. Turn or let me follow you down.” A love that cannot be saved. A destructive love that should not be saved. A letting go, a pushing away, allowing the anchor to drop to the bottom of the ocean while the sunlight reflects and refracts in the gallons of water overhead. There is such beauty and honesty in the pain imbued in this track, the tears and the ache. More red wine and candles please. Just close your eyes and enjoy.

Before I forget, a pre-emptive ‘merry Christmas’ to those that plan to celebrate the holiday tomorrow. Don’t forget to check back next Thursday, New Year’s eve, for album #1.

In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. The Strokes “The new abnormal”
9. Venus Furs “Venus Furs”
8. Bright Eyes “Down in the weeds, where the world once was”
7. The Beths “Jump rope gazers”
6. The Rentals “Q36”
5. Secret Machines “Awake in the brain chamber”
4. No Joy “Motherhood”
3. Phoebe Bridgers “Punisher”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

Best albums of 2020: #4 No Joy “Motherhood”

Someone needs to get on updating the Wikipedia entry on No Joy. Calling the project led by Jasamine White-Gluz a shoegaze band now feels like a mislabel, especially after you listen to their excellent fourth record, “Motherhood”.

When I first got into Montreal-based No Joy six or seven years ago, the term seemed more apt. White-Gluz had just released a second album under the moniker, working as a duo with Laura Lloyd. Both “Wait to pleasure” and the debut that preceded it, “Ghost blonde”, were steeped in fuzzy and hazy guitar trails blazed by My Bloody Valentine, Ride, and Lush. But there was a progression between the two albums, a hint that this act wasn’t just here to recreate and celebrate the original scene, a trope adopted by other ‘nu-gazers’.

After a third album, 2015’s “More faithful”, that was recorded by a more fleshed-out quartet, didn’t seem to move the marker far enough, White-Gluz took hold of the reins and took a break from recording LPs, in favour of a series of EPs, each striking out in a different exploratory direction. Perhaps most notable of these was her collaboration with Pete ‘Sonic Boom’ Kember in 2018. She completely stepped away from her comfort zone here, dispensing with her trusty guitar and traded it for synthesizers. The resulting four songs on “No Joy / Sonic Boom” might not be what you’d expect from either artist but are definitely a compelling listen for fans of both.

For “Motherhood”, Jasmine White-Gluz picked up her guitar again but didn’t leave behind the synths. She picked up the shoegaze that she started this journey with but threw it in a shake-and-bake bag with some trip hop, hardcore, ambient, and a bunch of the other sounds she’s toyed with in the five years between LPs. Yet instead of sounding scattered and overwhelming, the eleven songs here are quite cohesive and have sense of direction. This is likely because the album has a singular driving force and her’s is an ethereal voice that works the room with confidence. I can’t wait to see what she’ll do next.

My three picks for you are actually the album’s first three tracks and first three songs released in advance of it and the varied sounds are a good indication of the album’s explosive makeup.

“Dream rats“: The video for track two on “Motherhood” was released just a few days before the unveiling of the album itself. The song features the vocals of Jasamine’s sister, Alissa, the lead vocalist for Swedish death metal band Arch Enemy, a collaboration that the sisters haven’t been able to venture into together since both were very young. And the tune fits like a glove for both because after a short lazy intro, the song bursts forth into a furious pace that sounds like it might venture deep into thrash scream-o territory. Then, the shimmering, dancing synths kick in and it all gets dreamy again. The vocals, too, save for some perfectly placed growls, are ethereal and wispy, flitting and fleeting deep in the mix, the words all but indecipherable, ringing angelic against such a black, black, black backdrop of sound.

“Nothing will hurt”: For a track that starts out sounding a discordant industrial number, the second single really transforms into a dance floor burner reminiscent of Blondie, albeit with some disjointed flair. White-Gluz has said of its recording: “our mission in the studio was that no idea was too weird to try. That led to us squishing bananas into very expensive microphones to get textured percussion noises, shoving kitchen knives into guitar necks to create a perfect slide guitar sound and adding some Primus-inspired slap bass.” Yeah, it’s crazy but it works. It is gazing excitedly at shiny dancing shoes, stabbing guitars and rifling rhythms and shiny synths, oh my.

“Birthmark”: The opening track on the album and very first peek at the project’s first new album in five years hits like a ton of bricks. It’s the sound of 90s shoegaze gone 90s alternative dance. Think Chapterhouse’s second album “Blood music” or anything by Curve. Like the rest of the album, Jasamine White-Gluz had a lot of fun with this one in the studio, finding use for a set of bongos and apparently, a broken clarinet. The bongos are definitely front and centre and form the basis of a dance floor beckoning drum rhythm but I challenge you to point out the clarinet in the wall of sound she’s created in the loops and loops and loops. The party sound belies the subject matter, which according to White-Gluz, has its basis in the experience of visiting a relative in a senior living facility.

Check back next Thursday for album #3. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. The Strokes “The new abnormal”
9. Venus Furs “Venus Furs”
8. Bright Eyes “Down in the weeds, where the world once was”
7. The Beths “Jump rope gazers”
6. The Rentals “Q36”
5. Secret Machines “Awake in the brain chamber”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.