Whether it’s the environment, the country, or society in general, this year we’ve reached peak points in dystopian fear and despair. It seems that moments of peace, clarity and sincere self care in the modern era can only be found with our eyes closed, door shut and music blaring. Here are some of the things that I heard this year that blocked out the noise of the end of the world for a while:
Blood Orange, Negro Swan
A cathartic journey into identity and depression, this record glows throughout tracks of R&B, hip-hop, alt-pop, and ambient soul, showcasing Dev Hynes’ dedication, artistry, and versatility. Bay Area fans were thrilled to see Blood Orange perform at the Fox Theater this past September. Standout tracks to ride out the wallowing: “Saint” and “Charcoal Baby.”
Praying, The Thing Was Written With Salt and Bastard Gas
Oakland’s premier prog-sludge trio graciously gave us two releases this year — a noise tape titled The Thing Was Written With Saltand a EP that furthers their aggressive gloom-gaze sound called Bastard Gas. Though different, both releases express a similar visceral anger and liberation. Listen to songs “A Cold, Damaging Frequency” and “The Evilbastard Which Sobs” and bang your head.
Low, Double Negative
This scorching and gorgeous record drowns in dissonance. Warped vocals and an abundance of static bleed in waves throughout the Minnesota slowcore group’s latest record. There’s an exuberance of beauty in the band’s glowing harmonies, but also a overhanging sense of decay, sounding as though the tape were burning up as they recorded. Bathe in the sonic burnout of songs like “Always Trying to Work It Out” and “Dancing and Fire.”
The New Orleans doom-metal sextet have once again churned out an album of nihilistic profundity, performing from this release and the riff-laden, prodigious discography at Starline Social Club in Oakland earlier this month. Blistering tracks like “Sovereign Self” and “Elimination Rhetoric” cut through the dreaded normalcy of anxiety and depression like distorted knives, showcasing Thou’s supreme proficiency in expressing the collective angst of the world.
The Spirit of the Beehive, Hypnic Jerks
While spacey and detached has become of lifestyle for many, myself included, it also presides over much of this Philadelphia-based weirdo-pop band’s newest record. Samples, synths, and lush guitar tones weave intricate melodic mazes, leading to nowhere and everywhere. Let the omnnipresent drone take you elsewhere with “fell asleep with a vision” and “d.o.u.b.l.e.u.r.o.n.g.”
Daughters, You Won’t Get What You Want
Eight years past the release of their self-titled record, the Rhode Island purveyors of grinding hardcore have reengineered their distaste with convention into a monumental work of chaos. Crooning soliloquies and guttural snarls wax under the pressurized weight of this record, the energy of which was illustrated at two shows this past November at Bottom of the Hill. Songs like “Long Road, No Turns” and “The Reason They Hate Me” offer churning patterns of noise and admonishment.
Spellling, Hard To Please (7”) and “Haunted Water” (Single)
Her first release with esoteric label Sacred Bones Records, the Bay Area’s Chrystia Cabral continues to enthrall with hypnotic rhythms and deeply intimate compositions. Plus, we’re excited for the LP Mazy Fly to come out on February 22 of next year. Lose yourself in the murky grooves of “Hard to Please” and “Haunted Water,” off the upcoming record.
Marbled Eye, Leisure
Relentlessly driving rhythms and cutting guitar work unleash the quiet distemper of the Oakland quartet’s full-length. There’s a subdued fury throughout the record, and a minimalistic aesthetic that draws the listener in as much as the catchy parts. A mastery of crafting angular, moody post-punk songs with hooks can be found on tracks “New Crease” and “Laughing Sound.”
Turnstile, Time & Space
Nothing gives me hope like seeing a younger generation take the reins of punk music and wrestle it into their own direction. This year, the Baltimore troupe delivered the goods on a bouncingly biting record that moves at a breakneck pace. Pogo your way to work with bangers like “I Don’t Wanna Be Blind” and “Real Thing.”
Half Stack, Quitting Time
Oakland’s twang-rock outfit completed an LP’s worth of easygoing, blues-driven country rock this year, a record that comforts and reflects – released by East Bay imprint Processional Cross. Downtempo tracks like “Hanging Out (And Hanging On)” and “Dually” impart wisdom and conjure wistful memories to take us where we want to go.
The Body, I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer
No one pays as complete a sacrifice to hopelessness as this Portland duo. Their evolution from the grimy swamp of sludge-metal to the indescribable forms they take now has been as fascinating to observe as it has been punishing to listen along. Their latest record continues in breaking boundaries, juxtaposing operatic vocals with demented growling, glorious orchestrations with metallic drum machines, all run through filters of distortion. Overwhelming songs like “Nothing Stirs” and “Sickly Heart Of Sand” offer glimpses of darkness so bright you’ll feel like you just woke up.