New Playlist: November 2021

The music world is winding things down for year-end list season (Rosy Overdrive will join them soon enough), but we are not done with November just yet.  The latest edition of the Rosy Overdrive Monthly Playlist is the most “let’s cram a bunch of new music together while it’s all still fresh” edition thus far, I think—almost everything here is from 2021. I’ve been catching up with a lot of albums I missed recently, and also here is where I’m highlighting a lot of releases that I wanted to cover as a whole album but just didn’t have the time to do so.

Artists with multiple tracks this time around: Chime School, Angel Du$t, and Charlotte Cornfield all get two apiece.

You can hear the entire thing on Spotify here, and most of it on Tidal and BNDCMPR, and be sure to check out previous playlist posts if you’ve enjoyed this one.

“You Got Me”, Gabriel Bernini
From You Got Me (2021, Dadstache)

The latest record from former New Englander, current Los Angeles resident Gabriel Bernini is an infinitely comfortable folk rock album that doesn’t exactly hide its Dylan and Lou Reed influences, but never sacrifices Bernini’s songwriting for cosplay’s sake. You Got Me’s opening title track begins with a vintage-sounding, organ-keyboard riff (Bernini is a former touring keyboardist for roots rockers Deer Tick) that welcomes leisurely-strummed guitar and ringing piano accents all before Bernini confidently takes the mic. If this truly is the last new album to be released by Rochester, New York’s Dadstache Records, then at least we got You Got Me.

“Blame Myself”, Charlotte Cornfield
From Highs in the Minuses (2021, Double Double Whammy/Polyvinyl)

One of the most upbeat songs on Charlotte Cornfield’s very good new album Highs in the Minuses comes with a mantra for those of us who relive every moment of their pasts in bed each night before falling asleep: “I try not to blame myself / For anything I did / When I was just a kid”. Cornfield puts forward some of the best storytelling in music this year throughout the new record’s eleven songs, and the scenes in “Blame Myself” are no different. Cornfield lies to and is forgiven by her friend Amelia, writes extensively to herself, and drinks wine on a trampoline at some point in her past. “Part of me is still 17 in my mind,” she admits in the song’s closing line, but whether it’s a rejoinder to the song’s chorus or a reaffirmation of it I couldn’t say.

“Flashover”, Barlow
From Walls of Future (2021)

Barlow is something of a sibling band to Gaadge, who released the very good Yeah? earlier this year. The Pittsburgh groups feature common members (Ethan Olivia fronts Barlow and plays guitar in Gaadge, while Andy Yadeski drums for both), and they both play reverb-heavy, shoegaze-adjacent indie rock. While they’re equally My Bloody Valentine disciples, Barlow is the more punk/pop of the two: Walls of Future has plenty of hooks buried underneath the noise, as much Vampire on Titus as it is Loveless. Opening track “Flashover” is a forward-charging fuzz-rock attention-getter, although Olivia’s vocals are clear enough in the gaps between the walls of sound.

“Truck Songs”, Angel Du$t
From YAK: A Collection of Truck Songs (2021, Roadrunner)

Yeah, I dunno. Angel Du$t is fronted by Justice Tripp, the vocalist of hardcore band Trapped Under Ice, and he’s backed up by the majority of hardcore/jock jam revival act Turnstile here. I’m a little intrigued by indie rock/power pop side projects of hardcore dudes at the moment, so I gave YAK: A Collection of Truck Songs a listen, and, well…it’s very good. And it also has no hardcore in it whatsoever. And other than a cameo from Rancid’s Tim Armstrong, there isn’t much punk either. This is pure Rob Schnapf-produced guitar pop rock—they cite the Lemonheads as an influence and they aren’t fucking with you there at all. “Truck Songs”, which is I guess kind of a title track, starts with this awesome surf rock-type riff before veering into fuzz rock and then a hell of a chorus hook from Tripp. And then they repeat it a bunch. They could’ve gone on for another five minutes, I wouldn’t have minded.

“Dead Saturdays”, Chime School
From Chime School (2021, Slumberland)

“Dead Saturdays” is jangle pop at its brisk, sugary beverage-drunk best. Andy Pastalaniec, the San Francisco musician and long-time drummer making his solo debut as Chime School, stuffs the song with melodic guitar leads, tasteful background synths, and a driving drumbeat that helps “Dead Saturdays”—and for that matter, the rest of Chime School—run as smoothly as possible. And that’s not even accounting for Pastalaniec’s vocals, emotional but not showy, singing about a classic day-of-the-week yearning pop lyric. Read more about Chime School here.

“All Hail the Great Destroyer”, Fortitude Valley
From Fortitude Valley (2021, Fika)

Fortitude Valley is a new band founded by the Brisbane, Australia-originating, Durham, England-living Laura Kovic, and she’s recruited some Durham-area indie rock royalty to fill out the four-piece. Half of Rosy Overdrive favorites Martha play in Fortitude Valley (guitarist Daniel Ellis and drummer Nathan Stephens Griffin), in addition to bass from Greg Ullyart of Night School. Fortitude Valley isn’t a far cry from Martha’s catchy, energetic power pop/pop-punk hybrid sound, but Kovic has a vocal and writing style distinct from her bandmates’ other group: it’s a little more unassuming and laid-back than Martha’s constant exuberance, perhaps befitting the Australian suburb from which the band and album take their names. Kovic can still rock and command attention, though, mind you: “All Hail the Great Destroyer” finds her delivering “Won’t you please come and rescue me? Spent too many years in this black hole, baby,” with matter-of-fact confidence.

“Dear Resident”, Robert Sotelo
From Celebrant (2021, Upset the Rhythm)

Andrew Doig has already had an accomplished 2021—back in February, the band in which he plays bass, Nightshift, released a very good album on Trouble in Mind Records. Nightshift make a very distinct, minimalist, no-wave-influenced kind of post-punk, but under his Robert Sotelo alias, Doig explores psychedelic synthpop. Celebrant is Sotelo’s fourth record, and it shares at least one thing with his other band: there’s plenty of pop to go around. Nowhere is this more on display than opening track “Dear Resident”, featuring a delicate melodic vocal from Sotelo that could’ve been pulled from any number of decades of British alt-pop—just that, instead of jangly guitars, it’s pulled along by lilting synths and a mid-tempo drum machine beat. The showy synth-instrumental breaks in between Sotelo’s voice feel very Oranges & Lemons-era XTC as filtered through digital translation. 

“Cannonball”, Snow Ellet and Quarter-Life Crisis
(2021, Wax Bodega)

I must say, I’m getting more and more impressed with these Snow Ellet songs. Ellet, aka Eric Reyes, received some deserved hype for their Suburban Indie Rock Star EP in the first half of 2021 (which will be forever linked in my mind to the debut EP of Camp Trash, another act who recently released a leveling-up single that appears on this playlist), and their standalone “Wine on the Carpet” single nailed a specific kind of clear-eyed bummer pop of which I’d be happy to hear more. “Cannonball”, recorded with Ryan Hemsworth, aka Quarter-Life Crisis, is something else entirely, but still recognizably Snow Ellet. I don’t know if the fuzz-rock undertone of the song is Hemsworth’s doing, but it rocks in a way that Snow Ellet hadn’t quite rocked before, and Reyes still contributes as ace of a pop-punk vocal melody as any of their other tracks thus far.

“Illusion”, The Tubs
From Names (2021, Trouble in Mind)

Owen Williams and George Nicholls put themselves on the map playing in Cardiff’s unforgettably-titled Joanna Gruesome, but the now-London-based duo also form the basis of the five-piece band The Tubs—a band which inhabits the world of classic British jangle pop, from The Cleaners from Venus to Felt, from C86 to Slumberland. Their debut EP (and sophomore release, after a two-song single in early 2020) is four songs of positively triumphant guitar pop, and Names’ opening track is an instant classic. “Illusion” places Williams’ heart-on-sleeve vocals front and center—the bouncy instrumental is more than capable of captivating as well, only enhancing Williams’ pensive lyrics that seem to touch on dysphoria and individual presentation (“Sometimes I can’t see myself when I look into the mirror…Is it just an illusion staring back at me?”).

“Drunk”, Frogpond
From Time Thief (2021, Black-Site)

Just last month, I highlighted a song from Frogpond’s 1996 debut album, Count to Ten, and promised that if any song from their upcoming reunion record rose to the same heights, we’d be right back to them. Well, here we are again with the Kansas City band already, which bodes well for their 20-plus-years-in-the-making third album, Time Thief. “Drunk” is a classic mid-tempo 90s alt-rock track that could’ve easily come from the band’s heyday: the rhythm-section-heavy verses and the roaring power chords that mark the instrumental chorus are the “Pixies-esque” signifiers that Frogpond have always dabbled in, but the weary vocals of Heidi Phillips are all her own.

“Anything”, Elly Kace
From Nothing I Say Means Anything (2021, Dragonbreath)

Brooklyn’s Elly Kace is both a fresh face and an old hat—she’s been singing virtually her whole life, a journey that took her from children’s choirs all the way to becoming an award-winning opera singer. Nothing I Say Means Anything, however, is Kace’s first recorded foray outside of the music world in which she grew up, instead embracing the indie and art pop that she has long admired. Kace cites Kate Bush and Bjork as influences, and I also hear a lot of Laurie Anderson in Nothing I Say Means Anything. “Anything” falls in the middle of the album, and it’s a bit of an oasis after Kace fully embraces pop bombast in the record’s first few songs. Although it might be one of the more “subtle” songs on Nothing I Say Means Anything, it’s far from half-hearted—Kace reminds us all of her musical background with an inspired vocal take, and the song’s acoustic, pastoral instrumental is the perfect backdrop.

“Weed Song”, Double Grave
From Echinacea (2021, Suntanman)

The second and best song on Double Grave’s latest EP, Echinacea, is a sub-two-minute track that synthesizes the band’s slowcore and 90s lo-fi indie rock influences into an unassuming but brilliant pop song. “Weed Song” is effectively just one looping monster of a molasses guitar riff and Jeremy Warden’s weary, melodic vocal that matches the guitar in both categories. “One more hit, don’t wanna think for a while,” Warden murmurs in the song’s opening line, but the rest of “Weed Song”’s lyrics suggest that he’s not quite successful in this resolution.  The Minneapolis band also adds some tasteful synths near the end of the track, but it enhances rather than detracts from the song’s percussion-less reflective beauty. And then it just ends, real suddenly—like everything else, I guess.

“SIN”, Alcopops
From Devil (2021, Kangals Krall)

The latest from Portland, Oregon’s Alcopops is a four-song EP that liberally pulls from power pop, shoegaze, pop punk, post-grunge, and 90s indie rock all in under fifteen minutes. The group—singer/guitarist Leland Brehl, bassist Simon Miller, and drummer Ben Burwell—pretty clearly know their way around a pop song, and they kick the DEVIL EP off with their best foot forward. “SIN” boasts a classic slacker-rock riff, chugging yet melodic verses, and a chorus from Brehl that strains against Alcopops’ Portland punk trio set-up but not, like, in a way that ruins the song’s vibe. This is giddy noise pop done up in its most basic rock elements, except for—wait, what’s up with those floating synths at the end of the track? That’s pretty cool too.

“My Street”, Russel the Leaf
From Re Mix “My Street” (2021, Records from Russ)

As best as I can tell, the four-song Re Mix “My Street” EP is not a “remix album” in the traditional sense—I believe all of the songs are new tracks from Russel the Leaf. Evan M. Marre, who is Russel the Leaf, released what he called his “punk departure record” back in September, but because he self-releases all his albums and doesn’t use social media other than Instagram, I only just now discovered it. Despite Marre’s (presumably) half-joking description, Re Mix “My Street” isn’t a world away from February’s Then You’re Gunna Wanna—a little fuzzier and faster, sure, but still the same studio-crafted power pop Russ. “My Street”, the semi-title track, is a jaunty pop-rocker that seems to excitedly barrel down its namesake roadway.

“Quality”, Bedtime Khal
From Wake Up (2019, Dr. Esophagus/Devil Town)

Bedtime Khal, specifically with his Wake Up EP, and specifically on the song “Quality” on that Wake Up EP, is something of a curiosity. Khal Malik is a lo-fi bedroom pop musician from Michigan, but he doesn’t make indie folk that sounds like a heavily-sedated Lou Barlow, nor does he trade in sanitized pop punk. More than anything else, Wake Up sounds like a lower-budget (but not lower quality) version of the British 2000s post-punk revival, down to the showy bass guitar parts and Malik’s occasionally yelp-shouty vocals. I discovered Bedtime Khal through Leeds’ Devil Town Tapes reissuing his Wake Up and Hard to Find EPs on cassette, which made me just assume he was British at first. The jittery, early-morning briskness of “Quality”, however, sounds great on any continent.

“Go Away from My Window”, Myriam Gendron
From Ma délire – Songs of Love, Lost & Found (2021, Feeding Tube)

The latest album from Montreal, Quebec folk singer Myriam Gendron is a long journey that justifies its hyphenated title. Her fist album in seven years, Ma délire – Songs of Love, Lost & Found stretches Gendron’s bilingual, expansive mix of traditional acoustic folk and towering rock music across fifteen songs and seventy-five minutes. With Ma délire, Gendron takes on folk music from the United States, Canada, and France—opening track “Go Away from My Window” is one of the two songs on the record credited to American folk songwriter and archivist John Jacob Niles. In Ma délire, it’s one of the more straightforward songs: Gendron’s matter-of-fact vocals emphasize the song’s ageless lyrics, and the only accompaniment is a double-tracked, lightly-picked acoustic guitar that eventually reaches towards melody but doesn’t detract from Gendron.

“Weird Florida”, Camp Trash
(2021, Count Your Lucky Stars)

Ah, memories. Oh, no, I’m not talking about the specific era of turn-of-the-century big-Pop-little-punk pop-punk that Camp Trash have excelled at evoking throughout their brief career. I’m talking about how their debut EP Downtiming was one of the first records Rosy Overdrive ever wrote about, way back in January. Those four tracks still hold up well—a sneaky collection of songs that were content to let their catchiness slowly reveal themselves than beat you over the head with it. “Weird Florida”, their first new song since Downtiming, didn’t need to grab you by the shirt collar either—but Camp Trash went the extra mile for us anyway, and put together an instant classic as a result. That gleeful pop-song chord progression isn’t messing around, and the backing vocals in the chorus are pure precision.

“Arizona”, Log Across the Washer
From It’s Funny How the Colors (2021, Crash Symbols)

It’s Funny How the Colors spends time probing both ends of “experimental pop”, but “Arizona” falls squarely into the “pop” portion of Log Across the Washer’s latest album. Of the handful of lo-fi jangle pop songs scattered throughout the record, “Arizona”, despite being hidden away in the middle of It’s Funny How the Colors’ second half, might the most straightforwardly pleasing of them all. Tyler Keene’s vocals are delicate, Mark Linkous-evoking, and almost twee, and the steady, leisurely instrumental never veers from its guitar-pop grounding. Read more about It’s Funny How the Colors here.

“Residential Military”, OMBIIGIZI
From Sewn Back Together (2022, Arts & Crafts)

The upcoming debut album from OMBIIGIZI is a collaboration between Anishnaabe artists Daniel Monkman and Adam Sturgeon, the latter of whom leads the Status / Non-Status project that I’ve highlighted on Rosy Overdrive before. The Status / Non-Status EP from earlier this year was a bit all over the map, featuring warm reverby psych-rock sitting side by side with angry post-hardcore, and indications are that Sewn Back Together may be similarly restless. Lead single “Residential Military” is both poppy and noisy indie rock that cites late-era Sonic Youth as an inspiration, and Sturgeon’s stoic vocals also remind me of Beauty Pill’s Chad Clark. One doesn’t title a song “Residential Military” if one doesn’t have anything to say, but OMBIIGIZI are content to speak in images (“Birch bark canoe merges onto the freeway / No turn signal, how to switch lanes?”) for now. Read more about Sewn Back Together here.

“Little Love Songs”, Wendy Eisenberg
From Bent Ring (2021, Dear Life)

“Little Love Songs” is a hidden gem that’s buried in the second half of Bent Ring, and there are plenty of lyrical clues as to why Wendy Eisenberg might have done that intentionally. Even on a record predicated on risk taking (Eisenberg, an accomplished guitarist, recorded Bent Ring with no guitar, substituting in “a strange, salvaged, nameless banjo”), “Little Love Songs” is the result of Eisenberg straying even further from their comfort zone. “I told myself not to write sentimental / This dare I took seemed to have other plans,” Eisenberg explains at the beginning of the song, before plowing ahead anyway. “This is a very advanced form of torture,” they sing pleasantly over a bouncy banjo strum. “Writing this way is much too forward, much too upbeat,” they sing upbeat-ly and forwardly. Read more about Bent Ring here.

“Plain Sight”, The Goodbye Party
From Stray Sparks (2021, Double Double Whammy)

In praise of the low-key follow-up. The Goodbye Party’s second album, Beautiful Motors, surfaced on Double Double Whammy last year after a five-year gap, and its deft take on bedroom power-pop practically guaranteed it a spot on Rosy Overdrive’s Best Albums of 2020 list. Fans of Michael Cantor, the person behind The Goodbye Party, did not have to wait nearly as long for new music this time around. Barely a year later, the surprise-released Stray Sparks is “part album, part mixtape, part soundtrack, part tape collage” in which piano instrumentals, songs that utilize Cantor’s recent interest in sampling, and more “traditional” Goodbye Party songs all sit side-by-side. “Plain Sight” is closest to the latter, albeit more sparse than most of Beautiful Motors. Over a quiet acoustic guitar and some background noise, Cantor sings a vocal that’s as strong as anything he’s done.

“Get a Bike”, Chime School
From Chime School (2021, Slumberland)

“Get a Bike” boasts arguably the best vocal melody in Chime School, a record brimming with them—but even Andy Pastalaniec’s voice is outshone by that positively exuberant, ecstatic opening guitar riff. In the song’s lyrics, Pastalaniec instructs the listener to “ride a motorbike around in the country, if you want to understand”, while also referencing “1960s cars” and a “little Honda”. This transportation motif seems important—it isn’t the only song on Chime School with a motorcycle allusion in the title (see: “Fixing Motorcycles”), and with how zippy Chime School is, I doubt it’s unintentional.  Read more about Chime School here.

“Boy/Moon”, Doran
From Doran (2021, Spinster)

The North Carolina/West Virginia-based Spinster Records ruled the first half of 2021, going two for two with the roaring country rock of Rosali’s No Medium and the delicate but determined fingerstyle acoustic guitar of Yasmin Williams’ Urban Driftwood. The label’s follow-up release is something that both makes total sense among this company, yet is completely different than either. Doran is a “four person freak folk collective” featuring the talents of Elizabeth LaPrelle, Channing Showalter, Annie Schermer, and Brian Dolphin, and despite being clearly a folk record, feels like all four bring a breadth of influences to the table. “Boy/Moon” is one of Schermer’s, and she apparently improvised it completely on the harmonium. Over a droning tone, Schermer’s steady voice guides the song through both “eerie” and “gorgeous” (often both).

“Sometimes”, Footings
From Annihilation (2021, Sophomore Lounge/Feeding Tube/Don’t Live Like Me/Trailing Twelve)

The New Hampshire band Footings is led by Eric Gagne, with a backing cast that’s made up of musicians that have played in other New England bands such as Pile and Rick Rude. Like most of Sophomore Lounge’s roster, Footings plays an expansive, inclusive brand of Americana/folk rock that’s as likely to lapse into ambient acoustic guitar plucking as it is to build to a post-rock crescendo. Suffice it to say, Annihilation packs a lot into under 30 minutes. “Sometimes” is one of the record’s quieter, “breather track” moments, featuring warm vocals from Gagne over top of harmonies from the rest of the band and Elisabeth Fuchsia’s string accents.

“Sunset Town”, The Telephone Numbers
From The Ballad of Doug (2021, Meritorio)

I’m late to The Telephone Numbers’ The Ballad of Doug—it came out in June—but it’s as sturdy a jangle pop record as any other that’s been released in 2021, and I may yet try to write about it beyond “Sunset Town” if time permits. The Ballad of Doug has a familiar yet distinct sound, an instrumentally soft, vocally clear and emotional take on guitar pop that sounds closer to the late Tommy Keene than anything I’ve heard in awhile. The band (featuring vocalist Thomas Rubenstein of The Love-Birds and Bay Area jangle pop dean Glenn Donaldson) are at their sweetest on “Sunset Town”, a song that features a classically bittersweet chorus in which Rubenstein and (I think) keyboardist Morgan Stanley give it their all.

“Kennedy”, Feeble Little Horse
From Hayday (2021, Julia’s War)

I have to love any song that starts with a Clone High sample. As best as I can tell, “Kennedy” has little to actually do with the 2000s MTV cartoon, and if it’s about John F. Kennedy himself I’m not sure either, but it’s still a fun highlight from Hayday, the debut record from Pittsburgh’s Feeble Little Horse. On the surface, Hayday bears some similarity to fellow Pittsburgh shoegaze-influenced reverb rockers Barlow and Gaadge, but this brief, 21-minute LP fully embraces noisy, crackly guitar pop over subtle texture-building. Especially on “Kennedy”, a track that sounds like it’s about to burst right through my speakers as Ryan Walchonski, Sebastian Kinsler, and Jake Kelley bash out their respective instruments over Lydia Slocum’s insistent vocals.

“Remember”, The Ocean Greys
From Next Station (2021)

The austere dream pop of The Ocean Greys is the project of Pete Pagonis, who’s written the songs and played virtually every instrument on the three EPs the band has released in the past year and a half. However, the one non-Pagonis contribution is an essential one: lead singer Kora Goodman, whose icy voice effectively completes The Ocean Greys’ dark, chilly vibe. This is Goodman’s first release with Pagonis (about why former singer Carlee Jackson is no longer involved, Pagonis simply says “it wasn’t meant to be”), but Next Station’s mix of Mazzy Star ambience, Portishead electronic-rock, and slowcore empty-space utilization feels like a natural collaboration between the two artists. Opening track “Remember” is particularly sparse, with Goodman’s stoic vocals holding court against Pagonis’ slow-building synths and steady drumbeat.

“Line Going Out the Door”, High Pony
From All We Did Was Dream (2021, Super Wimpy Punch)

You’re probably looking for some 90s indie rock-inspired new music, yes? I know I always am. Well, Brooklyn’s High Pony are more than worth your time in that case. The latest record from what’s now a trio (singer/guitarist/bassist Seth Goldman, guitarist Jay Fox, drummer Pete Stanton) has shades of Pavement, Built to Spill, and even some 90s emo, but I hear Modest Mouse in Goldman’s voice and backing band above anything else. “Line Going Out the Door” is the “hit” from All We Did Was Dream—it’s able to shuttle the energy of High Pony’s garage-band squall and Goldman’s muttering and yelling into a darkly anthemic chorus.

“Drunk for You”, Charlotte Cornfield
From Highs in the Minuses (2021, Double Double Whammy/Polyvinyl)

It can be a chore sometimes determining which of all these indie singer-songwriter albums are actually deserving of the music writer hyperbole, but all of this can be subverted with one “Drunk for You”. As an advance single, it hooked me instantly, and while the rest of Highs in the Minuses lived up to its promise, this song is still just something else. It’s a beautiful piano-and-vocals composition, a sparse musical background for a set of lyrics that are nowhere near so simple. The relationship Charlotte Cornfield describes is bleak and doomed (“I was caught up in our sad ballet / Of fighting ‘til we fell asleep” would be tough even if it wasn’t followed up by “You don’t even like my songs, you don’t even like me”), but Cornfield describes the mess with a sad dignity. The song’s music video, in which she sings while standing waist-deep in the waves of Lake Ontario, seems apt.

“Nothin’ to Say”, Snake Lips
From Melt the Sun (2021, Repeating Cloud/Totally Real)

Portland, Maine’s Repeating Cloud Records haven’t exactly pigeonholed themselves. 2021 has seen the label release music from shoegazers Crystal Canyon, scrappy pop-punk group Crunchcoat, and the dark post-hardcore of Mouth Washington. Still, if they wanted to become “Maine’s number one garage rock label”, they certainly could: after the debut EP from similarly-minded That Hideous Sound, the four-piece Snake Lips have offered up a half-dozen tracks of vintage Wavves-esque fuzzy garage rock revival. My favorite track from Melt the Sun (co-released with Totally Real Records, whose signee We Are Joiners guests on another song), “Nothin’ to Say”, is one of the breezier numbers on the EP, almost a jangle-rock tune but with a harder edge—oh, and of course, it’s only a minute and a half long.

“Africa Iyo”, Jean-Pierre Djeukam
From Cameroon Garage Funk (2021, Analog Africa)

Analog Africa’s most recent compilation is presented as a document of the vibrant 1970s music scene around the city of Yaoundé, the capital of the central-Atlantic African country of Cameroon. Most of Cameroon Garage Funk was supposedly recorded by one engineer using one microphone in a local church—however it was made, it sounds great for a fifty-year-old archival release from any country. The whole compilation is worth a listen, but the record’s opening track sets a particularly high bar for the rest of it: “Africa Iyo”, performed by Jean-Pierre Djeukam, is a nonstop energy jolt that perfectly exemplifies “garage funk” music. A beast of a rhythm section and horns lead the song in a way that certainly recalls American funk and rock music but doesn’t mirror it.

“Over My Head”, Megan Siebe
From Swaying Steady (2021, Shrimper/Grapefruit)

Shrimper and Grapefruit Records are co-releasing Swaying Steady as the debut full-length record for Megan Siebe, but it sounds like the Omaha singer-songwriter has accrued plenty of behind-the-scenes experience for both of those labels beforehand. She’s played in the band of Grapefruit Records founder Simon Joyner, and arranged strings for Shrimper mainstays Refrigerator and John Davis, among others. “Over My Head”, which opens Swaying Steady, is a confident piece of mid-American alt-country, and Siebe sounds perfectly at home as the main attraction of a record. Far from the lo-fi that put Shrimper Records on the map, tasteful piano and twangy guitar dress up “Over My Head”, the star of which is still unambiguously Siebe’s voice.

“Cool Faith”, Angel Du$t
From YAK: A Collection of Truck Songs (2021, Roadrunner)

Oh, this is nearly as good as “Truck Songs”!  “Cool Faith” isn’t trying to impress with its dynamics quite as much as that one, but it more than makes up for it in sheer exuberance. It doesn’t have any vehicles in its title or lyrics, but its just as driving as YAK’s semi-title track. This is, like, slam-dunk commercial music. Beer, cars, vacation destinations…it’s not “garage rock revival”, but it’s got the same unpretentious excitement that the best of that genre did (does, I guess) well. Also, because of the song’s title, it’s extremely hard to Google without being inundated with results for Faith No More’s 1992 album Angel Dust. Justice Tripp and crew aren’t yet Mike Patton big, but, well, let’s give them a couple more years.

“Hecky Skelters”, Godcaster
From Saltergasp (2021, Ramp Local)

The chaotic six-piece rock band Godcaster rips through four songs in under ten minutes in their latest EP, Saltergasp. Most of the record is an instrumental free-for-all, with experimental guitar lines and crashing percussion fighting for control over the songs and the listener’s attention. Opening track and lead single “Hecky Skelters” is no different, but singer David McFaul’s deep monotone vocals are equally important for this one. When he sings (backed by the vocals of, maybe, flautist Von Kolk, it’s hard to tell), the song takes rough shape as a sloppy garage rock number, only to lapse back into anarchy once Godcaster’s singer looks the other way.

“My Friend”, Cindy
From 1:2 (2021, Mt.St.Mtn.)

Yet another San Francisco indie pop band, Cindy hews towards the slow and dreamy end of the guitar pop spectrum. The group is the project of Karina Gill, who began making music “only recently” but has clearly made up for lost time, releasing three albums as Cindy over the past three years. 1:2 is a cohesive listen; album track “My Friend” is representative of the record as a whole in its leisurely paced instrumental and melodic vocals from Gill. It’s not quite Paisley Underground psychedelic, but we are veering into Mazzy Star Velvet Underground-interpreting territory here with the clearly-recorded slowcore pop song chords and Gill’s matter-of-fact voice.

“Stolen Beer”, Rural France
From RF (2021, Meritorio)

West Wiltshire, England’s Rural France are lo-fi indie rock true believers, plowing through Guided by Voices-inspired hooky power pop through a layer of distortion as well as across the pond groups such as Mythical Motors and Galactic Static. Their second album, the garage-recorded RF, fits eleven songs in at about 26 minutes, and while “Stolen Beer” isn’t the only home-run pop anthem on the record (“Teenage Tom Petty” also comes to mind), its bittersweet chorus hook and pushing-three-minute runtime helps distinguish the track as “lead single material” as much as a band like this can have a “lead single”. The band’s core duo of Tom Brown and Rob Frawkes put together a two-pronged guitar attack, allowing chugging power chords and triumphant leads to both stick out of the song’s garage-rock veneer—“’Stolen Beer’ tastes much sweeter”, indeed.

“Oreo”, Pass Away
From Thirty Nine (2021, Suburbia)

Thirty Nine by Pass Away is professional punk rock music. The Brooklyn band is made up of members of long-hauling acts I Am the Avalanche and Crime in Stereo, and as a cohesive trio they aren’t spring chickens either, putting together a couple of EPs and a debut record in the 2010s before taking three years to release a proper follow-up to the latter. Not quite as hard as but still in the same realm as their “other” bands, Thirty Nine is full of rugged but determined pop-punk (orgcore), among which is the highlight “Oreo”. The song rocks both the pop-pleasing side (the power chord-heavy verse, the sing-along chorus) and the Serious Punk side (the stone-faced instrumental intro that also separates the verses).

“Oh the Night”, Courtney Barnett
From Things Take Time, Take Time (2021, Mom+Pop)

Remember when Courtney Barnett was supposed to single-handedly save rock and roll or whatever? Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit was a perfectly decent debut record that was burdened was overhype and unreasonable expectations, and if you approach her music without that baggage she’s done just fine since. 2018’s Tell Me How You Really Feel has actually become underrated, and while Things Take Time, Take Time definitely feels disappointingly slight at first after a three-year wait, there’s a lot to like on the record, especially among the album’s back half. Album closer “Oh the Night” is one of Barnett’s finest songs yet, one last fumble towards clarity on a record that seems to constantly circle around it but never latches on completely.

“We Need You for Our Plan”, Trevor Nikrant
From Tall Ladders (2021, Dear Life)

The latest record from Nashville indie folk singer (and Styrofoam Wino member) Trevor Nikrant is a composed, refined take on underground alt-country that’s refreshing in its neatness. A mid-album highlight, the gently-picked “We Need You for Our Plan” almost remind me of Dagger Beach-era John Vanderslice, featuring studio flourishes colliding with more austere indie folk-rock songwriting. Nikrant tenderly sings the title line over an acoustic guitar that’s steadily marching forward, and the song builds by adding a matching drumbeat that ramps things up until Nikrant raises his singing voice ever-so-slightly toward the end. Read more about Tall Ladders here.

“Judy and the Dream of Horses”, Belle & Sebastian
From If You’re Feeling Sinister (1996, Jeepster)

I believe that “Judy and the Dream of Horses” is the only 1996 song to make the playlist this time around, but what a song—the closing track to Belle & Sebastian’s second and possibly most beloved record, If You’re Feeling Sinister, is a perfect indie pop track. I’ve never been a huge Belle & Sebastian fan—listening to a full album of theirs front-to-back isn’t easy for me, but I’ve picked out songs here and there that have stood out, and this might be the strongest one I’ve come across yet. Stuart Murdoch is going on about some girl named Judy who dreams about horses and then writes songs about said dreams about horses (I imagine there are like six other Belle & Sebastian songs that have basically the same plot as this), but for whatever reason he sounds more poignant here than usual. I’ll just enjoy it.

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