New Playlist: December 2021

2021 may be long dead by now, but there’s plenty of music from that year that I’d rather not leave behind in 2022. Some of these songs were chosen for the playlist while I was finalizing Rosy Overdrive’s year-end lists, some I stole from other blogs’ lists, and there are more songs from 1996 on here again. Right now we’re in a (mostly) dead zone of new music, so there’s no excuse for you not to find something to listen to in here.

Artists with multiple tracks this time around: Delay (3), They Might Be Giants (2). Andrew Taylor and the Harmonizers (2).

You can hear the entire thing on Spotify here, or via BNDCMPR here, and be sure to check out previous playlist posts if you’ve enjoyed this one. I’m hoping to have a special thing up next week, and Rosy Overdrive will start to highlight music from 2022 sometime in the second half of January.

“Moonbeam Rays”, They Might Be Giants
From BOOK (2021, Idlewild)

There are a lot of They Might Be Giants songs and albums that I haven’t heard, which is odd, because what I have listened to, I like a good deal. I almost skipped over BOOK, but one listen to “Moonbeam Rays” put an end to that—they are still nailing these pop rock tunes, and this is one of their catchiest ones ever, with no qualifiers at all. As triumphant as the Johns sound on “Moonbeam Rays”, it sounds like the song is some kind of severance, the narrator fleeing across state lines away from a relationship that was unsatisfactory in their eyes. Still sounds like they care about how the addressee of the song reacts to it, though.

“For This to Pass”, Andrew Taylor and the Harmonizers
From Andrew Taylor and the Harmonizers (2021, Bobo Integral)

The end-of-December playlist usually has a couple of these: albums that should’ve been on my year-end list but I didn’t hear them in time. Andrew Taylor is one-half of The Boys with the Perpetual Nervousness, which made my one of favorite albums of 2021, and has also made music as Dropkick. This is the first album under his own name, culled from songs written during the pandemic for which Taylor didn’t have another outlet, and it’s a front-to-back sublime collection of wistful jangle pop. “For This to Pass” embraces the synths with which the most recent Boys with the Perpetual Nervousness album slightly flirted, but the bleeps only enhance the melodic guitar leads rather than try to replace them in any way.

“Roman Candle, Both Hands”, Delay
From Songs for Money (2021, Salinas)

Delay is some band from Ohio that’s apparently been going since the late 90s. Kind of surprising that I didn’t know about them yet, because Songs for Money is very much my shit. Opening track “Roman Candle, Both Hands” is a pretty good indicator of what you’re going to get from this album, which—say it with me now—Would Have Made The Year End List If I’d Heard It Earlier. It’s some shambolic but incredibly confident indie-pop-punk, with the band pumping out 90 seconds of gleeful basement-dance-party rock music like it’s nobody’s business.

“Across the Room”, Ok Cowgirl
From Not My First Rodeo (2021)

Ok Cowgirl is a Brooklyn “dream rock” band that just dropped a promising debut EP, Not My First Rodeo. Singer Leah Lavigne is a wistful pop songwriter, which is apparent even in “Across the Room”, the one song from the EP that’s unquestionably a rocker. Lavigne puts forth frantic and wide-eyed lyrics, which describe a bolt of emotion brought on by seeing a former partner “in passing” and the subsequent flooding back of an entire lifetime. The rest of the band propels the song forward alongside her. Read more about Not My First Rodeo here.

“Instant Night”, Beauty Pill
From Instant Night (2021, Northern Spy)

The title track to December’s Instant Night EP appeared as a standalone single in October 2020, right before the last presidential election, but one doesn’t need this context to understand the political climate at the dark heart of the song. The percussionless “Instant Night” floats along ominously in a way befitting its title, as singer Erin Nelson’s clear vocals breathlessly catalog the shadow overhead: “Look around, it was day, it was day…now it’s night,” she reports, wide-eyed. Read more about Instant Night here.

“The Hotel”, Gordon M. Phillips

There are myriad problems with the streaming service model of music listening, but probably the worst one is that Spotify Wrapped isn’t going to take into account the approximately sixty times that I listened to “The Hotel” by Gordon M. Phillips between Christmas and New Years this year. Now, I’m on record as having loved PROOF, the album Mr. Phillips’ band Downhaul released in the first half of 2021, but “The Hotel” doesn’t really sound like that cinematic emo-rock album. It’s a country song, I guess—Maxwell Stern, who also recently did a collaborative EP with Phillips, plays lap steel on it, and Phillips’ storytelling is captivating in a way that I don’t even know how he’s doing it. And it’s maybe my favorite vocal performance by anybody in 2021: the way Gordon kicks into “We gotta go! We gotta there!”, the quavering when he pronounces “I can tell there’s something wrong”, and the incredibly unexpected falsetto he shoots into with “It’s all over the ground now”…just listen to the damn song.

“Earth to Mike”, Spiritual Cramp
From Here Comes More Bad News (2021, Industry Standard)

Here Comes More Bad News is an incredibly short four-song ride from San Francisco’s Spiritual Cramp, a blast of punk rock that’s influenced by garage rock, post-punk, and/or hardcore (whichever of the three you prefer, choose your own adventure). “Earth to Mike” is the best song, although it’s only by a hair. It’s 90 seconds long, so it wastes no time establishing what Spiritual Cramp does best: a careening instrumental and motormouth vocals from singer Michael Bingham, who is quite good at what he does even if it’s not “technically good singing”.

“Zero”, Thanks for Coming
From #1 Flake in North America (2021)

It took me a couple months to get to September’s #1 Flake in North America, which of course means that Thanks for Coming’s Rachel Brown has already announced their next record, which might be out already by the time this goes live. Well, this last album is still worth a look, particularly “Zero”, a breezy acoustic-strummer of a song. It’s produced by Brown’s Water from Your Eyes bandmate Nate Amos, and it does has a This Is Lorelei-ish simple catchiness to it, although there’s actually quite a lot going on musically in the song underneath Brown’s acoustic guitar. “I’m thinking how nice it is to be consumed / How nice it is to be confused”—now there’s a good Rachel Brown lyric.

“Frozen Santa”, Death Hags
From Frozen Santa (2021, Big Grey Sun)

A Christmas song, why not? I highlighted a song from Death Hags’ last release, Big Grey Sun #3, back in May, and I’m happy to let the group—the project of Los Angeles’ Lola G.—soundtrack my holidays, too. The title track to Death Hags’ new seasonal album just happens to be about old Saint Nick, but otherwise it sounds pretty similar to Lola G.’s best moments: a dreamy, surf-rock instrumental, some backing “Whoo-ooh”s, and a great lazy West Coast pop melody. Nearly as good on Frozen Santa is “Xmas on Your Own”, which ups both the “dream pop” and “girl group” influence proportions, and there’s also about 18 minutes of ambient winter tundra between “Titan Icy World” and “North Pole Chaos” if sunny 60s music isn’t your idea of Christmas.

“Song of the Seasons”, Neil Young and Crazy Horse
From Barn (2021, Reprise)

Barn is a late-period Neil Young album, which is to say it’s got a few duds on it. But I will say this: the highlights are some of Neil’s strongest songs in recent memory. The eight-minute, chilly “Welcome Back” is transfixing, and “Heading West” is a classic shambolic Crazy Horse rocker. Best of all though is opening track “Song of the Seasons”—its probably-too-long-runtime points toward the post-LP era of Neil Young, sure, but the song itself is “Out on the Weekend”-level porch-sitting folk rock, and the harmonica and (especially) accordion are both nice touches.

“In the Shade”, Noun
From In the Shade (2021, State Champion)

Screaming Females’ Marrisa Paternoster had a busy 2021, despite the lack of a full-length from her main band. December saw the release of Peace Meter, the first album under her own name, and in July she released a three-song EP as Noun, which was one of Rosy Overdrive’s Favorite EPs of 2021. The title track to In the Shade is Paternoster in classic “alt-rock banger” form, riding a mid-tempo power pop instrumental and a vocal hook that’s as good as that of any of Screaming Females’ singles.

“Shit Creek”, Delay
From Songs for Money (2021, Salinas)

Second verse, same as the first. Sort of, at least. Like “Roman Candle, Both Hands”, the second song on Delay’s Songs for Money is an effortlessly catchy, fairly short piece of barebones pop punk, but the stakes feel a little higher in “Shit Creek”, believe it or not. The singer (who I think is Austin Eilbeck, but it might be his twin brother Ryan) is in some dire straits, but he’s “stubborn as fuck” and not going to let shitty jobs and cartoon villains take him down a peg: “The world’s got me down on my knees, but you don’t even gotta keep asking me / ‘Cause I don’t really wanna be anywhere else”.

“Bleeding Out”, Uncle Bengine and the Restraining Orders
From Write Home (2021, Funny / Not Funny)

A tuneful mess of traditional country instrumentation and garage rock sensibilities, Write Home is a casual country-punk record, and its somewhat anxious undercurrents all come to a head midway through the album on “Bleeding Out”. The raving speak-singing of Uncle Bengine—Harrisonburg, Virginia’s Ben Schlabach— reminds me a bit of Micah Schnabel from Two Cow Garage, as he cracks that “someone told me ‘at least punk would be good again’” about these tumultuous times, before elaborating with some trouble ruminations on “civilizational decay” and Green Day. All over the band letting loose with a controlled rock-and-roll demolition of an instrumental. Read more about Write Home here.

“Lolo 13”, Laura Jane Grace
From At War with the Silverfish (2021, Polyvinyl)

It took me awhile to get into At War with the Silverfish, but at least I did get into it. Last year’s LJG album, Stay Alive, was comprised of songs that were supposed to be recorded with Against Me! but ended up recorded by Grace alone because of the pandemic—and to me, they never shook the “unfinished demos” musk I got from them. Perhaps I should revisit it now, since Grace’s At War with the Silverfish EP is proof that she can still knock out some great stripped-down songs like the early days. “Lolo 13” is a delicate folk-pop tune that’s casual enough to sneak up on you but firm enough not to let go once it’s got you.

“Endless Summer”, Superchunk
From Wild Loneliness (2022, Merge)

Oh good, Superchunk are back. And they’re brining their friends along, too: the credits for February’s Wild Loneliness list Rosy Overdrive favorites Mike Mills, Franklin Bruno, and none other than Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake and Raymond McGinley right here on “Endless Summer”. In terms of post-hiatus Superchunk, the laid-back pop rock of Wild Loneliness’ lead single isn’t the pissed-off punk of 2018’s What a Time to Be Alive, nor is it the fizzy power pop of 2010’s Majesty Shredding. It’s closest to a cut off of 2013’s I Hate Music, or even a slightly beefier Portastatic/Mac McCaughan solo track (but not like anything on last year’s The Sound of Yourself, as good as it was). But most importantly: it’s great, and I will continue to be grateful for Superchunk in 2022.

“The Romantic Egotist”, In a Daydream
From This Side of Purgatory (2021)

Detroit “emo art rock band” In a Daydream released their first record in December, featuring a single that aggressively lives up to their genre billing. “The Romantic Egotist” is Beach Boys emo (let’s see if we can turn this descriptor into a movement in 2022, shall we), a multi-part indie rock movement that twists from shimmery soft rock to a swinging pop-punk showtune, and then spends its second half toggling between the two modes. Unlike a lot of prog-emo, Brian Porter’s vocals are actually good—not that they have to be, but the Brian Wilson influence certainly pops better if you hit all the right notes, like “The Romantic Egotist” does.

“Beat You to It”, Babe the Blue Ox
From People (1996, RCA)

The first of a few “hey, look at this band I found!” entries on this list, Babe the Blue Ox is a weird one. They were (still are, I think) a Brooklyn band that were on Homestead at one point, and were just as likely to throw up a mess of jazz-and-math-rock as they were to deliver tuneful 90s college rock anthems that sound kind of like the Poster Children, if you remember them. “Beat You to It” is shimmery, mid-tempo indie rock, one of several shiny highlights on 1996’s People. At least, I think it was on People—their discography is available now only as a single compilation where all of the songs are ordered alphabetically (Jesus Christ).

“Ihop”, Pee
From Now, More Charm and More Tender (1996, March)

So, this band is literally called “Pee”. I don’t know what’s up with that—in fact, I know very little about this band. They’re from San Francisco, their drummer also drummed in A Minor Forest, and they released Now, More Charm and More Tender—a chaotic 1990s time capsule of a record that darts between noisy, mathy rock and catchy, almost-twee indie pop rock. “Ihop” is in the latter camp, a great vocal-duet song featuring singer/guitarists Jim Stanley and Kelly Green swapping out over two minutes. The chorus is solid, but this is the rare “verses are the best part” pop song.

“Pelican Pete”, Supermilk
From Four by Three (2021, Specialist Subject)

I was going to say that whoever “Pelican Pete” is, it sounds like some British bullshit, but apparently it’s a tourist gimmick in Minnesota, assuming that “Pelican Pete” is actually about a real thing. “Pelican Pete” is also a great song by Supermilk, which is the project of Doe’s Jake Popyura. Four by Three came out back in July, and Good Morning America thinks it’s the second best album of 2021—I’ve just now gotten to it, and it’s certainly a uniquely spirited mix of big shiny alt-rock, lean post-punk, and some quieter moments. “Pelican Pete” is a mid-tempo number, carried primarily by an emotional and melodic vocal from Popyura, but that between-verses riff is certainly pretty catchy too.

“Firetruck”, Floating Room
From Shima (2021, Famous Class)

It took me a little while to get into Shima, the latest EP from Portland, Oregon’s Floating Room, but I’m fully on board now. While there are plenty of Rosy Overdrive favorites connected to Floating Room—Mo Troper on the record, Keegan Bradford of Camp Trash in the live band—it’s singer/songwriter Maya Stoner’s project, and she’s why Shima succeeds. These four songs manage to be both punky and ephemeral not unlike Alien Boy, another Portland band, and Stoner’s voice is a force that’s just at home helming the delicate indie rock of “Firetruck” as it is doing…what it’s doing in the last half of “Shimanchu”.  Of course I chose the pretty arpeggios in “Firetruck” for the playlist, but I do also really like the song that makes me go “Ah, that’s why they’re touring with Citizen and Drug Church”.

“The Light Will Stay On”, The Walkabouts
From Devil’s Road (1996, Virgin)

Now, here’s some fancy-pants rock music. The Walkabouts are “an alt-country band from Seattle”, and I imagine that’s mostly true throughout their surprisingly vast discography that I haven’t yet heard because I didn’t know this band existed until like a month ago. After hopping around from PopLlama to Sub Pop, Devil’s Road found them on a major label, and “The Light Will Stay On” at least sounds like they took advantage of it. It’s all lush and orchestral Americana, to be sure, with the strings and twangy riffs deployed in equal measure. It’s a little dark—not like 16 Horsepower or Handsome Family gothic country, exactly, but the bassline is pretty hypnotic, and Carla Torgerson’s vocals are stately, but at a distance.

“Brontosaurus”, They Might Be Giants
From BOOK (2021, Idlewild)

Oh yes, this is classic They Might Be Giants. There’s the piano-and-horns propulsion, the “is this one of their kid songs?” title, the simple simple simple sing-song melody, some self-referential lines—oh, and that really deep, completely unexplainable undercurrent of sadness that I get every time I listen to “Brontosaurus”. Here are some of the rhymes with the title: “I joined the circus”, “They found it easy to ignore us”, and finally “Who would have believed skin could be so porous?” If you’re wondering about the last one, just listen to the song’s sucker-punch of a bridge for more context.

“Sakura”, Joncro
From Richmond Station (2021)

Mississauga, Ontario’s Joncro claim an interesting mix of Jamaican music/reggae and noise rock/post-hardcore as influences. If that description intrigues you, I’d recommend listening to Richmond Station, as there are several songs, particularly in the record’s back half, that actually do back it up. “Sakura” doesn’t neatly fit among either of the two; it’s not nearly as Shellac-esque as opening track “Passa Passa”, for one, but it does sound heavy in a noise pop/shoegaze way, and Daniel G. Wilson’s vocals are hypnotic and catchy. Like “Passa Passa”, “Sakura” stretches out with a long instrumental outro, allowing the rest of the band (bassist Kieran Christie, drummer Matthew Mikuljan) to claim “no slouch” status as well.

“Heights”, Thank You Thank You
From Next to Nothing (2021, Oof)

I think I’ve already referenced the Beach Boys a couple times so far in this post; one more can’t hurt, right? Tyler Bussey used to play in The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die and currently plays in Strange Ranger, both bands that have appeared on Rosy Overdrive before, and last January he released his first music as Thank You Thank You, a five-song EP. Next to Nothing is a nice debut from the Philadelphia-based Bussey, which reminds me of other Philly-based/Philly-connected acts like Another Michael, Russel the Leaf, and Jodi (not coincidentally, members from all of these acts appear on the EP, which I didn’t even know before writing that line down). In particular, the soft rock of “Heights” revels in 60s studio-pop influences, such as…you guessed it…

“You’ve Become a Habit”, Leo Nocentelli
From Another Side (2021, Light in the Attic)

“You’ve Become a Habit” is a characteristic highlight from Another Side, the recently-unearthed folk record from Leo Nocentelli that made Rosy Overdrive’s Best Reissues of 2021 list. The record was recorded in New Orleans in 1971, and is very much in line with soul/funk-influenced singer-songwriters like Bill Withers that were popular concurrently. The soulfully sparse, acoustic “You’ve Become a Habit” finds the Meters guitarist inhabiting a narrator who “falls for a sex worker named Fancey”, and he tells the tale tenderly but without giving up his primary role as storyteller.

“Switter Beat”, Delay
From Songs for Money (2021, Salinas)

Third verse, same as the first and the second—again, sort of. The third track on Songs for Money is, like the two before it, incredibly catchy power-pop-punk in under two minutes, and like “Shit Creek”, there’s a sense of urgency—in fact, “Switter Beat” probably has more urgency musically than “Shit Creek”, which mostly relied on its lyrics. The vocal melody for “Switter Beat”, particularly in the verses, sounds familiar in a good way—like Delay found some forgotten sixties pop song, revved it up, and used it for their crude, offensive Ohio lo-fi indie rock purposes.

“I Fire Myself”, Mary Timony
From Mountains (2000, Matador)

Mary Timony’s Mountains is a weird record, especially for a solo debut. More talented writers than myself ruminated on this last January, when Matador released a 20th anniversary “please reconsider” edition of the album. I’m still not sure how much I like it—it probably could’ve been more than an honorable mention on my 2021 reissues list had I spent more time with it, but I didn’t—but “I Fire Myself” is one of the crystal-clearest “oh, I see what she’s going for” moments on Mountains, and it makes me want to hop fully on board. It’s certainly one of the best “piano and handclaps” songs I can think of, and if Timony’s vocals still sound like the 90s “slack-rocker” she was, maybe “I Fire Myself” suggests that that term might’ve been too dismissive then and now.

“Hope You’re Happy”, Gaunt
From Kryptonite (1996, Thrill Jockey)

Gaunt is another Ohio band I didn’t know about until recently, but unlike Delay, they haven’t been active in a long time. They sort of broke up at the end of the 90s, lead singer/guitarist Jerry Wick was killed in a hit-and-run a few years later, and that was basically it for Columbus’ Gaunt. Still, they did quite a bit before then, releasing five records of high-energy garage-punk on Thrill Jockey, Amphetamine Reptile, and Warner Bros. Records in the 90s. Kryptonite is apparently their “mature” album because it has a couple slower songs, but “Hope You’re Happy” is all rush to my ears, a classic 90s underground pop-punk anthem that unfortunately wasn’t a career rocket launcher, though it was plenty good enough to be.

“Dust”, Varnaline
From Man of Sin (1996, Zero Hour)

What is Varnaline? Well, Varnaline was Anders Parker, especially on Man of Sin, the then-Portland-based project’s debut. See, Parker (who still makes music under his own name today, and even released a record in 2021) wrote and played everything on this album, which is a must-listen for any fan of dusty, rickety alt-country. There are a few great fuzz-rockers like “No Decision No Disciple” and “The Hammer Goes Down”, but it’s the curious, almost interlude-esque quiet song “Dust” that caught my attention the most. The sub-two minute song is: Parker sounding lonesome but tuneful, simple acoustic guitar strumming, a lot of whirring in the background, and…what is that, a melodica? It sounds good, whatever it is.

“The Gin Mills”, The Sonora Pine
From The Sonora Pine (1996, Quarterstick)

For a lot of people, Tara Jane O’Neil is best known as the bassist of cult Louisville post-hardcore band Rodan, but she didn’t go anyway after that group broke up in 1995. She’s still musically active, having released an ambient album and contributed to a tribute record for fellow Louisville musician Wink O’Bannon in 2021. But in the immediate aftermath of Rodan, there was The Sonora Pine, which released two records in the late 90s for Touch and Go imprint Quarterstick. Noisy, experimental, and frequently beautiful, the first of those two records features “The Gin Mills”, a slow-building, delicate trudge of a song that’s enhanced by Samara Lubelski’s violin.

“Apart of You”, Pile of Love
From Pile of Love (2021)

Pile of Love is a power pop band made up of members of Drug Church, State Champs, and The Story So Far—all punk bands that I’ve definitely heard of before. So, yes, this does loosely fall into my “noisy punk/hardcore dudes making music inspired by Guided by Voices” microgenre of interest, but singer Morgan Foster sounds more like Chris Collingwood of Fountains of Wayne than anyone else, and the revved-up backing band sounds almost Swervedriver-esque. “Apart of You” is pure, happy, hooky alt-rock that could’ve come from a late 90s one-hit wonder, one of the ones that still have cult followings today.

“Strong”, Thalia Zedek
From Been Here and Gone (2001, Thrill Jockey)

The 20th anniversary edition of Thalia Zedek’s 2001’s record Been Here and Gone (which was one of Rosy Overdrive’s favorite reissues of 2021) provided a welcome look back to the Massachusetts singer-songwriter’s first album on her own, the one that more or less set the tone for a rewarding solo career to follow. Album highlight “Strong” exemplifies much of what makes the record work: Zedek’s ragged but confident vocals, languid guitar playing that’s not exactly “slowcore” but it’s in the realm, and prominent featuring of David Michael Curry’s cello that lends the song (and album) a stately, towering feel.

“Still Playing Out”, Andrew Taylor and the Harmonizers
From Andrew Taylor and the Harmonizers (2021, Bobo Integral)

“For This to Pass” is the chiming pop rock anthem from Andrew Taylor and the Harmonizers; with “Still Playing Out”, we get our ballad. Although the primary note many (myself included) seemed to get from Songs from Another Life was “wow, this band sounds a lot like Teenage Fanclub”, Taylor has developed his own distinct style of songwriting for those who care to look for it: a mix of bittersweet melodies delivered in his Scottish-accented vocals, a surprisingly liberal application of pedal steel flourishes, and lyrics that go back again and again to the well of time passing, examining how several different perspectives on this phenomena all lead to the same simple acceptance.

“Blackest Crow”, The Body and BIG|BRAVE
From Leaving None But Small Birds (2021, Thrill Jockey)

The opening track to Leaving None But Small Birds, the collaborative album between experimental heavy bands The Body and BIG|BRAVE, sets the tone for the record—a surprising tone, but one that ultimately makes some sense. The nearly eight-minute “Blackest Crow” is a bleak but spirited piece of traditional folk-inspired music, and the two acts handle it quite well. It reminds me of The Ex incorporating Eastern European sounds into their noise punk, or what Lingua Ignota’s been doing lately, or even how the sparest Songs: Ohia records find a certain heaviness in the starkness. Robin Wattie’s vocals and lyrics commit fully to evoking their influences, and the violin accomplishes this to no less a degree.

“The Night Has No Eyes”, Chris Brokaw
From Puritan (2021, 12XU)

Puritan came out on January 15th; nearly a year will have passed by the time this goes live. I highlighted “The Heart of Human Trafficking” back when the record came out, but I’ve kept coming back to its closing track again and again as the months have passed. Originally written by the late Karl Hendricks and recorded by Brokaw for a tribute album on his behalf in 2017, the latter’s weary reading of the song suits that of a songwriter who could find profundity in our shitty human experiences. “The night has no eyes / You could see anything in me that you want to see”—how’s that for a new year’s resolution? Time to stumble into 2022 in the dark, I suppose.

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