Well, 2020 has certainly sucked for so many reasons but TFN has found some silver lining in the fantastic music that was released this year. From the surprise album releases to the surge of psych rock entries plus the debut album discoveries, TFN feels our Blazing Top 50 Albums of 2020 will have something new and interesting for everyone to check out. Thanks again to our writers and readers for another stellar year on the web and we hope everyone stays safe and has a nice holiday season.
For all of those unfamiliar, The Lees of Memory is an indie rock trio featuring Superdrag co-founders John Davis and Brandon Fisher along with drummer Nick Slack. Moon Shot now represents the groups fourth long player but takes the band into a much more power pop indie path that easily will bring you back to the days of Superdrag. It was really good to hear The Lees Of Memory turn up the guitars and harmonies on Moon Shot. John Davis has always been an excellent songwriter and this album once again backs that statement up. This record was a nice surprise and is the groups catchiest to date. Honestly if you don’t crank the volume up on some of these guitar driven tracks – you are missing out!
In the two years since Dave Benton’s Trace Mountains released its debut, A Partner To Lean On, his life changed. Those changes include multiple big events that can completely alter your course such as the dissolution of his main band, LVL UP, which he co-founded in college, and a move to Kingston, New York. The definite upside of this situational shift is Trace Mountains’ sophomore record, Lost In The Country. The album delivers ten songs of lo-fi goodness that offers exemplary songwriting and a voice that hits you like a soft wave with some comparisons to Kurt Vile and Tobin Sprout. One big thing to know about Lost In The Country is that calling it a solo effort would not give an accurate picture as Benton collaborated with his LVL UP band mates and other talented artist that supplied background vocals, guitar, lap steel, and synthesizers. This is a solid record that only just got better with every spin!
After releasing a handful of live releases earlier this year, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard returned with the new studio album K.G., their sixteenth since they formed in 2010. It represents a collection of songs that saw the six members of the band home isolating and creating the record remotely. What could be a huge barrier has not stopped the group from giving their fans another unique listen that is loosely highlighted as being the sequel to 2017’s Flying Microtonal Banana, which was recorded using a microtonal musical scale. K.G. definitely returns to some microtonal sounds but molds it into a much bigger musical pallet with a more sleek and focused King Gizzard that continues to evolve. I will admit that K.G. burned brighter with more spins. There are new pieces you will hear with every rotation so this record once again has a high replay value. There are plenty of tracks on here that will not only find their way into future set lists but also will probably become fan favorites. I like that King Gizzard keep rapidly putting out music because I still feel that they are one of the most creative artists on the scene right now and K.G. keeps that trend alive.
Monophonics fifth record, It’s Only Us, brought on a very comforting vibe that just blankets you with its harmonizing background vocals. The West coast band has dubbed their sound “psychedelic soul” and I feel more than previous records their own labeling really stuck with this release. The slick vocal delivery of singer Kelly Finnigan combined with the fantastic whoosh of background support gives each of these eight tracks a time warp back into the early 70’s. Each song finds its own groove with a multitude of pianos, organ and of course plenty of brass. If you like soul, you will not want to put the Monophonics record down. We all have had plenty of down time this year and we couldn’t recommend a better 40 minutes to pass the time than this groover!
Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker is a perfectionist and he has slowly turned his musical vehicle away from the psych rock driven debut Innnerspeaker from ten years ago into the extra smooth snyth grooves that flow throughout his newest long player The Slow Rush. The Slow Rush is all about letting the synths take you places we have not visited before. The Slow Rush tapped into classic rock sound undertones on many occasions and the way it moves stereo channels and blends the flawless vocals was brilliant. This meticulous detail exists on each track. Fans of early Tame Impala may be long gone but what we found is that after hearing The Slow Rush multiple times, the modern day Tame Impala is not such a bad place to hang out either!
Nada Surf’s ninth studio recording and first in almost four years, Never Not Together, did not necessarily mark new territory for the band but highlighted the veteran groups quality writing, musicianship, and knowledge of how to grab the listener with a hook. Matthew Caws vocals are always perfectly emotive and every sprawling chord from the band is flawless. These givens boosted Never Not Together’s output but the decision to pull these tunes inward a bit sonically sets them above their last few records. Never Not Together was a grower for sure but if you have been a fan it was a must pickup as Nada Surf soars through and makes sense of the noise we call life!
Celebrating 15 years from the release of their debut album, The Budos Band returned with their 6th long player, Long In The Tooth. It is an album that changes gears from their harder edge they showed the last couple albums but especially as they raged out on last years V. Long In The Tooth finds the group returning to their roots of their early records and when their label was “Staten-Island Afro-Soul.” To make that return to simpler times but yet still inject some modern flare, The Budos Band got more funky and just lets the horns blow old school which helps stir the psychedelia. New fans might not understand the instrumental brilliance of The Budos Band but if you have any ear for good music you can recognize that these guys can make your foot tap. The breezy skill that they delivered on Long In The Tooth is incredibly good and at only 33 minutes long the album never overstayed its welcome. This album is a success because it shows off their core competency and clearly explains why after 15 years The Budos Band are still a relevant act!
Over rock history, the soft voice story telling singer/songwriter has been a big thing with names like Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Tim Finn and Michael Penn. The list can go on but in this modern era of music I feel like the list of recognizable names gets smaller but now we will pencil in Canadian Andy Shauf right beside them. Shauf’s fifth album, The Neon Skyline, is a concept record about a normal night at a bar with friends and a bartender and it shows off a maturity from Andy which makes it memorable. It has the sound and vibe of some of those great singer/songwriters of the past as Shauf’s voice just seems familiar. This is the same way many of those classic records flowed with the addition of jazzy instrumentation, a simple guitar, and an almost folksy approach backed with some keys and skins. The honest delivery of The Neon Skyline makes the listener Shauf’s best friend as you completely understand his stories throughout the record. It was an album that came out all the way back to the beginning of this year and easily held up to all the crap 2020 has given us!
Alphabetland was a great surprise and was the first album of new music from the four original members of X in 35 years, but it felt as vital, punchy and hard-rocking as those early classic albums. With the exception of two songs that dip back into the band’s past, there are 8 solid new punk tracks here, written in the last 18 months, all brimming with the snap, stomp and punch of the rhythm section and the twin vocals of Cervenka and Doe, spitting with invective, singing with spirit. After 35 years, and with most of the last 15 years focused on music from that distant past, it was hard not to come to new music by X with lofty expectations. And the beautiful thing here is that X didn’t try to do something big, something different, something “worth the wait.” Instead, the four players and Schnaph locked in on the thing that worked for X all those decades ago, the songwriting, the energy, the storytelling, the fun, and just gave us 8 more songs in that rich, rooted tradition. It’s pretty simple really.
Time flies when you are getting pounded by an arsenal of brutal post punk that over the last eight years METZ has delivered album after album after album. Atlas Vending is the Canadian groups fourth LP of all new material and the album hits you like a ton of bricks from 10 stories high! It is this type of intensity that METZ has always brought to the studio but Atlas Vending takes it to another level with songwriting and musicianship. The band finds a catchy balance between aggression and dreams which is a newer style of post punk for METZ but they shine with another dimension added to their soundscape making Atlas Vending on of the sharpest records the band has released to date.
2020 will forever go down as the year psych-rock exploded here at TFN and more into the indie scene with a multitude of quality releases. Karkara was part of this genre expansion with their sophomore effort Nowhere Land. Karkara provide plenty of loud fuzzed guitars, thumping bass and a rapid drum delivery. All of this sets the landscape but then the group adds the space swirling noise of the didgeridoo (an Australian wind instrument) and synths to the mix, which then helps create a slightly middle eastern world pulse to the record. Monster waves of music swarm over you throughout this record. The trio play off of each other around every tempo change making the experience of Nowhere Land immersible. Karkara was another great example quality psych rock this year as Nowhere Land works from beginning to end.
Frankie And The Witch Fingers
Monsters Eating People Eating Monsters . . .
The Reverberation Appreciation Society / Greenway Records 
Frankie and the Witch Fingers released one of TFN favorite albums last year with ZAM. That album was a bubbling cauldron of perfect riffs and surprising dynamics and now with Monsters Eating People Eating Monsters… Frankie becomes a battering-ram that knocks down the castle gate. Frankie offers up plenty of barn-burners and 10 ton arena rock. Clearly this record is the most expansive sound the band has attempted and just keeps coming at you with riffs over and over again. Frankie and the Witch Fingers’ Monsters Eating People Eating Monsters was a straight forward rocker that just brings the fun with each listen!
For Andy Hampel, the solitude of staying home produced his first solo record, Nightshift. Who is Andy Hampel you ask? He is a current member of Columbus Ohio’s lo-fi indie band Connections and a past member of 84 Nash. In fact, most of Nightshift was sitting on the shelves for three years while several songs date back as far as the mid 90’s. Hampel launched these solid 14 tracks of short and fuzzy melodic rockers that for sure puts a solo spin on the delivery compared to Connections records but didn’t stray too far. The entire album creates earworms that pull you back into the music for multiple spins. What may have been an album that never was necessarily ready to see speakers any time soon, Nightshift supplied a great injection of into lo-fi indie rock and ranks up there with Hampel best records.
FUZZ, the Los Angeles-based trio of Ty Segall (drums, vocals), Charles Moothart (guitar, vocals), and new member Chad Ubovich (bass, vocals), returned with their third album and first album in five years. Appropriately titled III, the band came back with their familiar modern stoner rock but unlike their two previous outings, FUZZ fully embraced a late 60’s and early 70’s straightforward hard rock sound. Where before you could only make comparisons, now you can find FUZZ officially sitting on the shelf next to Sabbath and Alice Cooper. This was an easy record to have high expectations for and some fans may have been let down that you may not find any new ground broken from FUZZ on III but it was the most “band like” album the group has produced. Before it was easy to just call this another Ty Segall project but now in its eighth year, you can for sure officially just call it FUZZ and rock the hell out!
Alright is a fuzzed out indie band from Charlotte, North Carolina that is led by the energetic guitar and voice of Sarah Blumenthal. Their debut full length, I’m Doing This To Myself, was a blood pressure raising rocker that throws out all the gimmicks and delivers a straight forward and raw muscular guitar album that finds Blumenthal rising above the hum. I’m Doing This To Myself is a solid 30 minute indie rock debut that you absolutely will find something to like about it with one listen. Alright is a bright spot on the Charlotte, NC scene and their feverish energy reminds me of that band 2 hours north in Chapel Hill called Superchunk. That is a sound I will hit replay on every single time!
The Old 97’s have been plugging away since forming in 1993, playing alt-country with such consistency that it might be tempting to take their musical strengths for granted. Appropriately titled, Twelfth is the 12th album from the Dallas band. Musically, the songwriting remains strong, the band is playing with enough muscle and skill to lift up every song. Seasoned craftsmen, the Old 97’s continue to work that familiar musical territory that country rockers have been navigating since Gram Parsons’ work with the Flying Burrito Brothers in the 60’s, and the continue to deliver fine work that reflects their own take on the world. On Twelfth they don’t reinvent the wheel, just shore it up with a dozen more sturdy spokes which still sounds fresh today in 2020.
Sophomore record from Philadelphia’s 2nd Grade was the perfect dose of indie power pop to brighten any mood. Hit To Hit offers 24 tracks over 42 minutes and if you do the quick math it equals a short song music fest! 2nd Grade’s Hit To Hit is a winner all the way around. You couldn’t go wrong with their short burst of power pop that at times, can have a very early Blue album era Weezer vibe while standing tall with some of our more recent indie power pop favorites like Young Guz and Oso Oso. The band also offered up plenty of diversity with upbeat numbers, acoustic bedroom songs and several different vocalists throughout the album. I guarantee you can’t walk away from this record not humming one of these hooks. Looking to turn your day around – crank up 2nd Grade!
Many bands should count themselves lucky if they make it to five albums let alone twenty-three. Protean Threat from John Dwyer’s Osees is an album name basically says it all. The album has its’ themes but, it can also change on a dime. Protean Threat has many things going for it that includes plenty of wonky, weird, creepy, smooth, jovial, and sinister instrument movements. It for sure is one of the most Osees straightforward punk records which just lets off plenty of energy around every corner. After several albums that contained prog like song structures it was nice to hear Dwyer and the Osees getting back to basics!
Summerlong was the sophomore record from Ripley Johnson’s Rose City Band. Already a staple in the psychedelic world as leader of Wooden Shjips and part of Moon Duo, Summerlong took Johnson’s Rose City Band moniker to new heights and moves beyond his simpler 2019 self-titled debut which was much more focused on getting lost in the wandering guitar. Rose City Band created a timeless country rock record that only gets better as you sit with it. This album could have been released in any decade and its controlled laid back vibe is its hidden bait. Experienced psychedelia guitar is what Johnson really offers on Summerlong and he executes every warm sun baked groove with a true love for the genre. That sincerity is what makes every song on Summerlong a keeper and this release one of the surprises of 2020.
TFN has been a fan of Sleepies since their herky-jerky release Cool Boy in 2012. Fast forward to 2020 and we find Sleepies refining their post-punk sound for a more stringent, stripped-down album. It seethes with tension and motorik precision on the majority of its nine tracks. Time v Pleasure offers a few hints of Sleepies past but for the most part, this album is a modest departure from anything they have ever done. They certainly did not suffer from the shift as Time v Pleasure is instantly catchy and memorable which most certainly made it one of the bright spots this year.
Jason Isbell’s seventh solo album since stepping away from the Drive-By Truckers is another work of transcendent music that lives up to the commercial and critical successes like his two previous albums, 2015’s Something More Than Free, and ‘17’s The Nashville Sound, both of which earned Isbell and his band The 400 Unit Grammy awards for “Best Americana Album.” Bigger names have folded under that kind of pressure, trapped with writer’s block, or just phoned it in, but here on Reunions, Isbell and long-time producer Dave Cobb pushed the envelope to embrace a bigger and fuller rock sound. Isbell never loses contact with his inner voice with a more polished production that anticipated a larger crossover audience but also appealed to rockers. It was a solid move as Reunions is another solid entry into his catalog.
If you were to see Jeff Rosenstock walking down the street of Los Angeles you would have no idea that this is the dude that keeps punk rock alive and well in 2020. At 37, Rosenstock has become an unlikely hero in the scene with a band resume that includes The Arrogant Sons of Bitches, Bomb the Music Industry! and Kudrow. Since 2015, his solo work has been the golden ticket and much like his 2018 release POST-, NO DREAM was a surprise release to the world! NO DREAM is the fourth full-length from Jeff Rosenstock and it once again brought his free spirit mix of Green Day pop punk hooks with the occasional Bad Religion and Minor Threat explosion. What really drove NO DREAM home was Rosenstock’s forward and honest writing. The album was put together over the course of the last few years and gives a voice to the rage that many of us may have a hard time articulating. Once again Jeff Rosenstock is at the top of the punk genre!
Avoiding the sophomore album slump is a monumental task for any group that had a successful debut like Melbourne-based band Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever. Hope Downs (2018) had the college jangle at times like R.E.M., which then combined with the raw rock of The Replacements. This guitar indie rock was a breathe of fresh air two years ago. Now fast-forward to 2020 and RBCF’s new record, Sideways To New Italy found the band pulling back to their roots for inspiration as “home” is where their emotion comes from. Each song here from RBCF has what we think now is their staple melodic approach and each one of them was executed with such optimism that you wanted more. This album seemed to be under the radar for some but RBCF’s music offers a perfect indie guitar pause from reality that only gets better after you hit repeat!
Melbourne’s SUPER-X is propelled by brothers Harrison and George Ottaway on muscle flexed guitars while being glued together by Kaelan Emond’s roaring drums. Their self-titled debut was in the works for 5 years but the fantastic wall of fuzzy post-punk war they wage here was 110% worth the wait. The best part about SUPER-X is that the trio is unpredictable. It would be easier to blast through 10 tracks with an ear bending curdle and call it a record but the groups key to excellence is their attention to detail and not being afraid to take a risk with several music experiments. The instrumental and spoken word transitions give their self-titled debut depth but the musical tightness of the group is where they get their fuel. Without a bass, everything offered here comes at you with the dueling guitars and the fantastic drumming. The grinding riffs on this album were all you really needed to hear to be convinced that this is one of the best post-punk records of the year.
You might think Detroit’s Protomartyr had a crystal ball when they were writing and recording their fifth album Ultimate Success Today last year as it feels like a closing statement to all things doom and gloom but may just be the cleanse we all needed. Edge and uncertainty is the main fuel behind Ultimate Success Today as it is one of the bands most complex records to date. The inclusion of small touches of jazz and wood instruments take Protomartyr to another level of song sophistication as Ultimate Success Today needs absorbed. It is a record that you will realize has more meaning today and probably more than when the material was written. It also highlights a singer that is pushing through some of his deepest thoughts and washing his conscience clean. It is a task we all should probably do at some point – Protomartyr has just showed us the way!
Phoebe Bridgers’ solo sophomore album arrived this year amid a growing demand for the young indie rock singer/songwriter. Part of Bridgers’ appeal is that she captures these darker, at times a psychedelic lyrical mix of conscious and subconscious imagery, in often pleasant, bright sounding melodies. She’s able to capture the complex emotions many of us experience but rarely can verbalize, often capturing the schizophrenic ability of our minds to hold two thoughts at the same time. The dreamy pop of Bridgers with its obsessive interest in honest expression, no matter how quirky felt like a perfect fit for these unusual times. Her music is the soundtrack for this age, and Punisher finds her and her striking just the right chord.
Italian trio Bee Bee Sea returned with their third LP, Day Ripper, and if a title could ever capture the overall mood of a record this band nailed it. Day Ripper is a super high energy indie rocker that jams incredibly hard as it dips in and out of Brit-pop, garage and punk for its full 34 minutes. With the blending of genres that Bee Bee Sea bring to the album it also is important to know that another piece of Day Ripper that makes it so engaging is that the band supplies consistent Beatlesque choruses. This familiar sound is something the group has retained since their early days starting out when they covered sixties classics from the Beatles, The Who, and The Stones. Bee Bee Sea sound like they have grown and expanded overnight here as they have perfectly executed moving outside their past comfort zone. The result was a record that never slowed down, consistently bought something new to your ears and made music chaos fun, catchy and memorable.
The pure raw punk on Melbourne’s Stiff Richards third LP, State Of Mind, was a mind blowing powerful 27 minute ride of rock n roll that never let its foot off of the gas pedal. Stiff Richards is not pop punk, they are not speed punk and they are not 90’s punk. Stiff Richards is a fantastic throwback sound to a no frills 70’s and early 80’s punk that is just guitar, bass, drums and grit. Stiff Richards is a band that didn’t sound like 2020. That reason is exactly why State Of Mind was one of the better releases this year and for sure one of the best punk records of 2020.
Dehd, the Chicago-based trio of Emily Kempf (vocals/bass), Jason Balla (vocals/guitar), and Eric McGrady (drums), made grand steps forward on Flower Of Devotion. Their clarity and sharpness is the true heart of the album and why Flower Of Devotion is so good. Everywhere you turn you can just hear how much more confident Dehd are today and there are plenty of songs that they let just simmer to the correct temperature before they take you down a different and intricate path that you completely remember. What we liked about Dehd and Flower Of Devotion was their overall authenticity. The band is lighthearted but also is always reaching to get out of darker shadows. Not only will several spins of this album win you over but it will also help you realize that Dehd has released one fantastic record.
Since their formation in 2016, Sydney’s psych-rock band Kimono Drag Queens released a string of singles and slowly worked their way up to releasing their debut, Songs Of Worship. It’s taken the seven-piece two years to record but it was worth the wait as Songs Of Worship is full of surprising turns, styles, and rhythms that are both memorable and impressive. The band consistently moves in and out of the psych genre and ebbs and flows with their fuzzed out guitars and melodic vocals. At times they can come off lighthearted but then as songs progress, Kimono Drag Queens transcend into a completely different animal with explosive space prog rock conclusions. Songs Of Worship has big rock out moments that immediately standout and truly put this Sydney band on the radar as a new act to watch!
RVG returned with their sophomore album, Feral, and it completely lifted the quartet to another level. There has been plenty of quality rock bands coming from Australia. RVG will stun you with their modern day post-punk that is in the same block as the gloomier classic groups Echo & The Bunnymen and The Psychedelic Furs. This retro 80’s English sound is handled with such a fresh vitality that Feral is just gorgeous all the way through. Recorded with producer Victor Van Vugt (PJ Harvey, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Beth Orton), Feral is a bold statement for RVG. These songs scream isolation but they are raw with melody and bring an intriguing warmth to the songs as they pull the listener into RVG’s perspective. Ferel only got better with each spin and earned its spot at #20.
One listen to the UK’s IDLES and you can’t deny the fierceness that surrounds their music. The band has a big attitude, plenty of opinions, and a snarl like no other band on the current scene. IDLES also has a front man in Joe Talbot that never takes a breath or break as he drives each track through your brain. Ultra Mono feels bigger than their previous two albums. It also sounds more produced plus features guest vocals from Jehnny Beth (Savages), and additional guest contributions from Warren Ellis (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds), David Yow, and Jamie Cullum. Overall, the record is another solid listen as IDLES are a very important band right. They call out everything like they see it and that transparency with the viciousness behind the music only leaves you with one thing to do with Ultra Mono – crank up the volume!
Just the thought of a new Fugazi record makes me want to run to the local record shop even during a pandemic! Ian MacKaye is just one of those personalities that if he is involved in a project you should check it out. With that said, Coriky is his new vehicle that also includes familiar mate Amy Farina (The Warmers, The Evens), and old pal Joe Lally (Fugazi, The Messthetics). This group really sounds like a true bridge between Fugazi and The Evens. Coriky can rage, they can groove and most all are still political to the core. Each track here has a veteran swagger that makes them Coriky and separates them from the members past groups. Overall, we have waited quite some time but Coriky lived up to the hype. Not that there should have been any doubt but this self-titled release fit in perfectly with 2020!
Fleet Foxes was another music surprise in 2020 as they released their fourth album, Shore, unexpectedly on the exact moment of the Autumnal Equinox to mark the changing seasons. Even though the release was a shock the music was not. It once again finds Fleet Foxes very much in sync with early expectations created by the folky, rural Americana, melody focused, and harmony-rich albums, with their 2008 self-titled debut and 2011’s Helplessness Blues. By this point, the secret is out of the bag that Pecknold is Fleet Foxes, he writes the music, sings most of the harmonies on the records, devises and arranges all the instrumental sections. It will matter little whether Fleet Foxes continue as a band or if Pecknold just does the obvious and goes solo, as the 15 tracks here offer the best of both worlds.
Black Market Brass is a Minneapolis-based group performing their own brand of originally composed Afrobeat/Afrofunk music, and Undying Thirst is the group’s sophomore album and Colemine Records debut. The instrumental group is comprised of eleven musicians that form such a powerful force together that this record will blow you away. The phonetic energy and complex arrangements of these eight pieces will take your mind to another space. The running guitars, the insanely good drum beats, the pounding bass and a ripping brass section that all easily will knock you off your chair. Undying Thirst is a record you had no idea you wanted to hear. It is also a record that you won’t want to put down!
The title of Fiona Apple’s fifth album is telling. Drawn from the British crime-drama “The Fall,” which featured Gillian Anderson as a detective who, discovering some shackles where a woman has been abused, cries out: Fetch The Bolt Cutters. Those words become a metaphor for an artist who won’t be put in chains, who will shake off the shackles of pop convention, as well as the other subtle limitations and unspoken expectations that are placed on female pop singers. Apple is not reined in here, married to some idea about pop music formulas or commercial restraints; she’s clearly expressing herself musically without limitations. And the further you go into the tracks, the clearer it is that those bolt cutters have been effective in more than one way. There is so much going on here worthy of celebration, Apple has tapped a smart, fun creative vein and the rewards show up in track after track, as she stretches and remolds pop song patterns into fresh shapes that both surprise and satisfy.
The Chives released one of the biggest under the radar albums of the year. Made up of many members of other bands, their debut album is disjointed, lo-fi, off key, noisy, abrasive and just plain snotty. All of those adjectives actually add up to one of the great energetic fuzzed up finds in 2020 as the record is utterly fantastic. The consistent piece that The Chives have going for them is the aggressive nature of their guitar and how the instrument is placed front and center. No matter how lo-fi the vocals can be, The Chives do possess a classic indie sound as they rev the guitars in the right place like a very early Strokes or X album. Full of carefree lyrics, The Chives offer a sinister and super enjoyable ride! I am not sure if this collective can create this magic again but The Chives self-titled debut is a record to hear today!
Sometimes the best thing to do as an artist when you feel pissed off is to just write about it! That is exactly what songwriter and producer Sarah Tudzin did as her Illuminati Hotties ended up stuck in a contract with the publicly collapsing record label Tiny Engines. With their sophomore album handcuffed for a bit we got Free I.H. and all of its personal and global anxieties that are driven with aggression, claustrophobia and loss. Now if this album was such a straightforward type of riot grrrl, it would be one thing but the joy of Free I.H. is that it offers some different flavors of aggression. The album is just 24 minutes long and Illuminati Hotties stands tall. Free I.H. may not have been the album we were supposed to hear from them right now but it will be the album you will remember them for!
There are typically several times in a year when a record comes out that you just know it is good from the first track. That is exactly the feeling TFN experienced with Waxahatchee’s fifth record Saint Cloud. Waxahatchee’s last two records were more noisy with stand out guitars, and a grittier indie edge so there was some surprise to hear the stripped down Americana sound that is completely driven by Katie Crutchfield’s voice. It is flawless. Song after song, she tells her story and created a catchy blend of music with well timed harmonies, pure emotion and grade A musicianship. Katie Crutchfield and Waxahatchee released this album with a fresh perspective that created a timeless classic in her collection.
Described as a reflection on singer Wayne Coyne’s youthful upbringing in Oklahoma City, The Flaming Lips’ 16th album, American Head stepped away from the bombastic sci-fi rock opera visions to make a record of more reflective, often tender ballads akin to 1999’s The Soft Bulletin. One of the secrets behind the Lips’ 35-plus year career; that underneath all the psychedelic synths, Santas vs. the Alien Babes’ concert wars, and stunning visual theatrics of the Flaming Lips’ live shows, it turns out that Coyne is a balladeer at heart and they’re just a really good band. American Head feels like one of the more intimate and personal efforts from Coyne & Co. that is an emotional investment that connects. It was refreshing to hear they still have it in them.
Anymore, it always takes something a little extra to surprise us and on June 23rd, Chicago’s Hum did just that as they dropped Inlet, their first album in 22 years. It wasn’t just any album either as Inlet is a behemoth 56-minute long full length that is full of adrenaline and tall walls of sound. That long absent timeline plus the surprise nature of Inlet finds Hum seizing a great opportunity in a year that was full of isolation and uncertainty. Inlet is heavy. Really heavy. In all the ways that are good, Hum hits the biggest riffs of their career and creates new monumental soundscapes that show their band maturity on Inlet. After all this time, Hum just wanted to play. These compositions are complete for sure but not one track is constrained. This setting has created a timeless heavy shoegaze rocker with Inlet and the advanced musicianship and sonic experience that Inlet provides represents the best album of Hum’s career.
When you can list Guided By Voices, The Decemberists, Stephen Malkmus and Elliott Smith as artists you have played with it should be an automatic for any indie music fan to be following Portland’s Eyelids. Now, when you find out that R.E.M.’s Peter Buck produced and plays on this record it should be a no brainier that the band’s fourth LP, The Accidental Falls, was a must listen. What makes this album a bit more special is that Eyelids connected with poet and former Tim Buckley collaborator Larry Beckett. Larry offered to write new lyrics for this album and gave them access to his words from the last four decades! With the lyrics in good hands, Eyelids were completely focused on the music and the results soar. The group definitely retained their Pacific Northwest sound, but compared to their earlier work, there is a new found confidence that sounds like a group which has played together for 20 years. Eyelids have created one of the better albums of 2020 so don’t bypass checking it out if this band is still new to you!
Sometimes simplicity is the key to great music and what you actually don’t hear can sometimes be the highlight. That is exactly what the Boston post-punk unit Sweeping Promises delivered on their debut album Hunger For A Way Out. The groups’ swagger, controlled intensity and focused detail on the little things had the cup runneth over with fantastic memorable moments. These little spectacular pieces happen almost on every track and with the album running just 28 minutes the experience is perfectly rewarding. You never wear down from any of Sweeping Promises tracks as their debut is engaging and was a real surprise when we took a chance on checking out the album. With great song writing, commanding vocals, tense guitar play and modern rhythms, Sweeping Promises easily earned their spot at #8!
A pissed off Bob Mould will always produce a great record. Bob Mould was raging against the machine a full decade before Rage Against the Machine was a band. Early albums with the Minneapolis-based punk trio Husker Du, including the monumental Zen Arcade, proved provocative and influential, due largely to Mould and drummer/singer Grant Hart’s penchant for writing fast, edgy melodic songs that chronicled street life and the punk rock experience. Blue Hearts is Bob Mould at his loudest and fastest, grinding home the urgency he’s obviously feeling about the world we share. Blue Hearts is Bob Mould’s 13th solo album, which added together with his Hüsker Dü and Sugar work, other collaborations and live albums, is a monumental catalog, much of it very strong. While he’s always been able to tap that raw human anger at the heart of our confusion and frustration in the world, there’s more at work here than mere rage and release. Bob Mould is sending out an S.O.S. about the world around us that is collapsing and we all should listen!
What started out as a bedroom project from singer Dana Margoiln quickly evolved into a much bigger indie band sound of what Brighton’s Porridge Radio is today. On the band’s sophomore record, Every Bad, the group delivered everything they had to offer and then some, one intense song at a time. The album is driven from Margolin’s passionate vocals that have very PJ Harvey tone to them while a more overall rock from the band such as Concrete Blonde and Elastica. The lyrics, the chords, and the voice all share an urgency that elevates this Brighton group to another level. The softer deliver of Margolin can blow up in an instance as the band will come in with almost a chanting backing chorus that is powerful and sharp. The fierceness of this record is where it succeeds and its confidence carries Every Bad every step of the way. Porridge Radio delivered one of the better records of 2020. There is not one track on this album that deviates from its assurance, determination and tenacity which easily made Every Bad a must listen!
Thank the heavens for GBV. Even during a pandemic the band released three solid records in 2020. There is much debate on which of the three was the best and maybe TFN is leaning some towards Surrender Your Poppy Field over Mirrored Aztec but it is really a topic we could argue about all night long. Styles We Paid For is also a strong contender but we have only had a chance to listen to it several times with its December 11th release. The bottom line is that all three records have shining moments and are filled with spontaneity which is the GBV lifeblood. There are so many sub-songs that are lurking within the titles that keep the listener on their toes and waiting in anticipation for that next transition which is such a great feeling if you are a fan. With smart and speedy movements these albums all have an indie rock spirit that feels familiar. It is also important to note that regardless of your GBV tastes, there is a little something for all types on each record. One thing everyone can agree on is that Guided By Voices does not seem to be slowing down anytime soon and that is a benefit to us all!
I will totally admit that TFN was saddened in 2015 when the news broke that Boston’s Krill had called it quits. The band produced some really good records that could be counted on for some powerful and quick post-punk. The mourning place for Krill was healed this year when we heard that the band was getting back together but now would be called Knot?. Why not just return as Krill? Great question, but after one spin through Knot’s excellent self-titled debut you will understand. A tweak to the lineup, five years of aged wisdom and a passion to play music again creates a new canvas which finds Knot thriving. It also makes sense that they have found a new beginning for this chapter which matches their current lives. What was once a band that dove right in and went for it all, now slows things down and simmers each track. Knot is an album that only gets better with each spin. It is a record that sits well and grooves as it highlights that a different perspective and time can make all the difference in the world between producing a good record and a great album. Knot has succeeded creating a new identity and clearly have produced the later here as this debut is solid all the way through!
Tobin Sprout will always be known for his work in Guided By Voices but Empty Horses finds the gifted songwriter, artist and illustrator producing one of his best albums to date. To many fans surprise, Tobin Sprout has truly crossed into a heartfelt Americana delivery on Empty Horses, complete with pedal steel, that we will admit at first was a bit shocking. Not because it isn’t good but because I was expecting the album to rock up like his 2017 release The Universe And Me. Americana music is honest by nature and Empty Horses finds Sprout at his most focused and sincere. The album can be haunting, fulfilling, and transcending as Sprout’s pure and veteran voice walks you down each song’s path with some of your favorite components of his past records. Empty Horses was a giant risk for Tobin Sprout and initially felt like a potential miscue but with its multiple killer harmonized vocals and several moments of gritty guitar work, Empty Horses is still the Tobin Sprout everyone knows. It actually feels like the perfect record for this moment in Sprout’s career as its polished but weathered Americana turns out to be a timeless keeper and one of the better albums released this year.
You may remember that Ghost Funk Orchestra’s 2019 release, A Song For Paul, took TFN’s top spot in the final Artist of the Week list last year, so we made sure not to miss a review on their newest, An Ode To Escapism. And are we glad we didn’t. GFO’s latest set of songs, An Ode To Escapism, takes all of the previous album’s strengths and builds on them, creating a listening experience that’s simultaneously more diverse and more cohesive, all while retaining their signature sound. Cavernous drums, reverbed guitars, and a coda with brass and flute solos are just some of the instruments you will hear battling for the last word and driving the great songwriting. The lyrics are cohesive throughout the album too, each track touching on the theme of escaping the monotony and anxiety of day-to-day existence (for better or for worse). An Ode To Escapism is a mesmerizing listen from beginning to end. Like the best albums, it grabs you immediately but rewards closer listens too. If an escape into psych-drenched soul-jazz-funk sounds like your idea of a good time, Ghost Funk Orchestra is a group you should have on constant rotation!
#1 – Album Of The Year
French psychedelic trio SLIFT started things off back in 2017 when they released their debut EP, Space Is The Key, via one of our favorite labels in Howlin’ Banana Records. Their debut LP, La Planète Inexplorée, then followed in 2018 and found the band exploring their garage psych sound and taking more time to experiment with different instruments. Now SLIFT returned with the double LP Ummon, which is a momentous space odyssey of a record that from its cover, to its theme, down to its last chord, is a mesmerizing journey of acid krautrock, grinding garage, cosmic jazz, new age prog, and modern psych that are all fused together with enough heavy guitar parts that the album could fit into your metal collection. This record is so big it felt like an automatic to claim the top spot this year. SLIFT is not one dimensional as they expertly dip into an array of genres. For all of the space rock and hefty bass lines the band can also produce calm seas instrumentation like stand out tunes from Japan’s Kikagaku Moyo. They even can offer instrumental pieces that never flex or explode but are just precise. SLIFT show restraint in places but beware because they can also let loose and bust out of your speakers. If you are not familiar with SLIFT they are a band that will win you over quickly in this new era of pscyh music. The trio provides fuzz and high energy vocals but Ummon shows so much growth from their earlier releases as everything here falls into perfect place. SLIFT have produced a fantastic double album in Ummon that fantasizes about the future but completely plants its brawn in the present! It is an album that hit everything right in a year that has been full of challenges for so many people. SLIFT took TFN by surprise and for so many different reasons earned its spot at the top with its sweeping waves of noise and transcending spacial movements that will not lose its shine.