photo by Catherine B Photografie
(Seb Painchaud, the main man behind the Montréal band Tumbleweed Dealer, has very expansive and eclectic musical tastes, which is one reason why for six years in a row we’ve asked him to share a year-end list with us. This one, as usual, goes in all sorts of different directions.)
So, 2021 huh? At least it wasn’t ‘2020 part 2, this time it’s personal’. The theme of the year has to be ‘cautious optimism’ as things slowly creep back to something we can consider adjacent enough to what we used to call normal for us to become complacent once again. Shows are slowly starting back-up, I can eat at my favorite Pho place again, looks like we might just be on the other end of this shitstorm and we may even get a few months before the next one starts (omicron, nuclear warfare, global warming, the fall of capitalism, murder hornets 2: The Return, all bets are open on what will hit next!)
All in all, a much better year than the previous one, musically and personally. I’m turning in my list earlier than usual this year, for once having a list of 20 potential albums that I all feel comfortable including. I will still be scouring everyone else’s list for a potential entry in a ‘Shit I Slept On’ compilation early next year, but until then, hope you discover something new in here!
Murderer – I Did It All For You
Every year, there’s always one album I don’t include on my yearly list because I discover it too late, and then I proceed to beat myself up over it for the next twelve months. I’ve taken to including it in the following yearly article to atone for that unfathomable mistake. Last year had so many, I had to put out a second post to make things right, yet here we are, opening up this year’s list with a release from 2020!
The worst fucking part is I had actually heard this one when it came out, but it just didn’t click at the time.
Murderer play a weird brand of punk (An almost Oi-ish take on hardcore punk) and synth pop (think Choir Boy) keeping the styles almost completely separate from each other, and the whole thing is based on repetition. Things repeat over and over with slight variations in a way that elevates it all to an artform while remaining something to nod your head along to. This is evident in the fact that 5 songs share the same name, chord progression, and lyrics, the same sentences chanted over and over like a mantra, making up a large part of the band’s synth pop side of their sound. Add to that the fact that the band’s punk songs pretty much steamroll along nonstop to the same, straight-ahead, one-two drumbeat, and you get a picture of how hypnotically catchy this whole affair ends up being.
Kinda thing that starts off as a something you enjoy almost ironically, then becomes a guilty pleasure, to eventually evolve into one of your favorite records you’ve discovered lately, which explains why I’m a year late recommending it.
And so, on with the list!
Another yearly tradition is for me to begin the actual list with an EP. Let’s just make it a yearly thing and skip the whole ‘quality of over quantity’ spiel. We’ll use the time we save not doing that whole song-and-dance routine by including two of ‘em.
Luna Li – Jams
Not only does Bandcamp have the best, most equitable platform for digital music sales out there, but they also write some pretty kick-ass articles with great suggestions of music of all types. Through one of these articles, I discovered Luna Li, a Toronto singer and multi-instrumentalist, and this EP of instrumental jams she made. The only way to truly appreciate these laid-back, summer-y, short but potent tracks is to see her perform all the instruments herself in this video:
Sea Mosquito – Fire, Magic & Venom
I know I say this at least once per list but ignore the band name and just stick with me on this one.
Elevator pitch: What if Deathspell Omega wrote Meshuggah’s I.
This 20 minute + track starts off with repeating rhythmic patterns that swirl around and create a nauseating build-up before bursting into what is just clearly some of the best black metal I’ve heard all year. Just progressive enough to be fun without sacrificing the atmosphere, and right when you think it can’t get any more fucking epic, SAX SOLO!
Gary Bartz, Adrian Younge & Ali Shaheed Muhammad – Jazz Is Dead 006
Ever since its inception I’ve been following the ‘Jazz Is Dead’ project headed by Adrian Younge & Ali Shaheed Muhammad. If the names don’t ring a bell, you might have heard their work on Netflix, because both men collaborated together for the badass soundtrack to both seasons of Luke Cage. Younge also worked with Ghostface Killah on his amazing Twelve Reasons To Die albums.
They decided to keep working together and make a series of albums where they record with different artists, and on the 6th volume they brought in saxophonist Gary Bartz, who’s credentials include playing on Mile’s Davis’ Live Evil, one of the best live records ever made, as well as playing on some underrated jazz classics of the ’70s with the likes of Alphonse Mouzon, McCoy Tyner and even playing on some Art Blakey and The Messengers records in the ’60s.
The contrasting credentials of these artists make for a sophisticated affair. It’s a lot less hip hop influenced than what the duo usually does, but they do bring that slight “reverb-drenched Rhodes piano backstage in a smokey club at 2 AM” vibe they have to counterbalance Bartz’s more traditional, yet always exciting playing.
The whole thing peaks on the very Kamasi Washington-esque ‘Day By Day’, quickly followed by the frantic explosions of the following track ‘Distant Mode’, but just as much could be said of any track on this all-guts no-filler jazz masterpiece.
NOFX – Single Album
When they dropped ‘I Love You More Than I Hate Me’ early in 2020, I became obsessed with the track. Now I’m not the kind of person who listens to a track or an album more than a few times, but this one was on repeat for several weeks in my household. I was still highly skeptical when they announced Single Album and even dismissive when I saw that they ‘rebooted’ Linoleum, but that became the theme of this album: Me being completely fucking wrong in underestimating these veterans.
During my first listen, so many times I told myself ‘Oh no not this kinda song’ or ‘Damn they’re not really gonna do this?’ but fuck every goddamn time they both pulled it off AND ultimately went into a different direction than what I was expecting. My fault for forgetting that these are the guys that wrote The Decline.
Nostalgia aside, this is clearly the best songwriting they have ever done.
Derya Yildirim And Grup Simsek – Dost 1
Described as ‘Anatolian Psych Pop’ these guys alternate between instrumental psychedelic jams infused with middle eastern harmonies, and more vocal-based laid-back world music type tracks, showcasing Derya Yildirim’s amazing voice. I gotta admit I prefer the groovy stuff, but that’s just a testament to the driving beats behind the tracks than a dig on the singer, as the songs focused on her give the album the depth that landed it on this list.
Slant – 1집
Straight from South Korea with fucking fury, these guys and gal play an effective, pissed-off and straight to the point brand of hardcore punk. It knows when to go hard but it also knows when to settle into a beat to better pummel you in the fucking gut. It’s decidedly modern in its dedication to violence, but the guitar playing still has a slight nod to the rock n’ roll roots of the genre, which most bands have lost through the years.
FFO: Having angry women yell at you in a language you don’t understand.
Jordsjø – Pastoralia
I will be honest with you, before typing this up, I had to google the word ‘Pastoral’ despite having used it several times in reference to a specific type of progressive rock. Apparently, it has something to do with sheep grazing grass or something. When used as a noun though, it refers to a work of literature idealizing the country life. Now that makes more sense. I had seen the word used to describe that certain type of prog that’s folky and lite yet engaged and lively. Certain parts of Genesis laid the groundwork for it, but the Scandinavian Prog Revival scene really took it and ran with it.
To me, these guys were always just a third-rate band of this subgenre, far behind the top tier Anglagard and Anekdoten, and still a step behind Wobbler and Agusa, two bands that are slowly coming to prominence in these last years. But with this new album they have jumped to the front of the scene, creating an album that embodies the aforementioned atmosphere, thus justifying its title, but also pushes its boundaries, adding some jazzier sonorities into the mix, livening up a genre devoid of progress (Oh the irony!) in the last decade or so. Whether this is your entry point into the subgenre or not, this requires your immediate and undivided attention. It will reward you greatly for it.
Deadpan Darling – Deadpan Darling
In 2005 rapper Ceschi and producers Blue Sky, Black Death teamed up under the name Deadpan Darling and released some of the most beautifully sad indie pop demos MySpace had ever seen. A very depressed, mid-twenties me working a shitty call center job would loop these tracks in one ear while customers yelled into the other about their broken house phones (yes those were still a thing back then).
A full album never saw the light of day…. until now. Apparently, a broken hard drive had resulted in a mythical ‘lost’ full album that was retrieved and released in 2021.
It is very weird for me to get to include an album containing songs I have been obsessing over for over a decade on my yearly list. To say that I’ve listened to the songs “10 Things” (back then known as “We Don’t Care”) and “Sorry” over a hundred times is not an exaggeration, and when I say the song “Laugh Track” is an all-time, all-genres-combined top 5 favorite track for me, I mean it, I’ve written the actual list! Consider this a spoiler for an upcoming article.
It was also very bizarre to finally discover the other tracks that accompany those three on this album, but at no point did it disappoint. Living up to those expectations was no small feat.
Ceschi eschews his usual raps to focus on a falsetto singing and BSBD focus on the types of beats they had used on such underrated instrumental hip hop classics as “Noir” and “Late Night Cinema” (def worth checking out) rather than the beats they provided for whole albums of bangers for artists like Jean Grae, Heaven Razzah and last but not least, The Holocaust (seriously, if you’ve never heard the album they made together do yourself a pleasure and go look it up right away. Like, NOW!)
The whole album just flows and lulls you into this comfortable sadness from which it is hard to climb out of.
Mast – Battle Hymns Of The Republic
Usually when you think Nu Jazz or Jazz meets electronics, you think of trip hop or drum n bass influenced jazz, the meeting of the more experimental side of electronic music and the exploration of jazz. In this case, the drum beats are as straight-ahead as can be. Just a driving force around which the musicians can go crazy. The recurring themes between the scatting solos are usually pompously simple, almost like someone snuck a dance track into an epic jazz jam. The songs also have a very clear and present message, boasting several thoughtful spoken-word passages throughout the album.
They say it best themselves on their Bandcamp:
“Battle Hymns of the Republic is a deliberate reflection of events happening in our country and around the world. A spiritual protest against the rise of misinformation and fascist ideologies…’’
This is more than tacking a message onto an album for the sake of it. You can hear that the straightforward rhythmic approach mirrors the veracity of their stance while the intricacy of the arrangements floating over it remind us of the complexity of the issues they are tackling.
But the music always comes first, and believe me, it delivers. One minute it is all over the place in an almost free-jazz improv collection of solos, and others it is a driving afro-beat-esque machine not to be reckoned with, but it is always powerful and, more importantly, always delivered with passion and intent.
Khadavra – Hologram
I usually scoff at the subgenre tag ‘Psychedelic Prog’, not because they are mutually exclusive, as both harken back to the ’60s/’70s sound, but because most bands that claim to mix both usually fall squarely into one of the two categories and barely touch upon the other.
But not here. These guys have made a psychedelic prog album that actually marries both sounds perfectly. Slow starts quickly become sweltering, boisterous, trudging tracks that never relent and become epic when hitting their zenith.
This is an album that will require repeated listens to properly digest but is fully worth the effort and time.
Drinking Boys And Girls Choir – Marriage License
Straight out of Korea sounding like American teenagers in the early ’00s. The word ‘Infectious’ doesn’t even begin to cover it. They take all the kinds of catchy usually used by various types of punk rock, from the raging-fist-banging youth anthems to the mid-paced reflective end-of-a-teen-movie-the-protagonist-has-learned-the-power-of-self-confidence slow headbangers and uses them all as effectively as possible. It’s not a time capsule but it has a nod to a time when this kind of music was more prominent in mainstream media and has that warm fuzzy ‘I remember why we all loved this’ feeling, yet still feels relevant, both musically and topically.
Favorite song: Secret Revenge
White Void – Anti
Lars Nedland fronting a bizarro-world incantation of Beastmilk that has just a touch of Solefald’s more straight-ahead moments from their first few albums. Just listen to the first track and tell me you’re not hooked. Often albums like this tend to hit hard on the first tracks, only to fizzle out as they lose steam when they try to widen their sound or run out of gas as they repeat the same formula with every song, but this one doesn’t fall into either of these traps, adding just enough variety to the songwriting without ever compromising its chorus-centric, rock n’ roll attitude. I didn’t just appreciate Nedland’s contribution to this record, it also made me go back and appreciate much more his parts in his previous projects.
Lord Huron – Long Lost
So many times I have heard an amazing song in a TV show and used tunefind just to learn it was Lord Huron.
I discovered him when Shameless used ‘Ends Of The Earth’, and it has kept happening since. I only learned of his new album when it popped up in YOU‘s latest garbage fire of a season. I had enjoyed his music since discovering it, but this is a whole new Lord we are dealing with on ‘Long Lost’. He uses every western/country/’60s psych rock trope in the book, resulting in something that triggers nostalgia immediately, yet never crosses the line where you can clearly identify the musical reference. Songs like ‘Mine Forever’, ‘Twenty Long Years’, and especially ‘I Lied’ will feel like familiar favorites on the first listen. He has a shoegaze-y, post-rock-y way of having these huge walls of sound come in at just the right time.
So although the album is made up of musical cliches, they’ve never been done in this context, and also, they’ve never been executed this perfectly.
Molly Drag – Resemble Another
As I often state in my introduction, I put these albums in an order that attempts to keep the reader’s attention and focus on variety more than any formal ranking. I usually put albums similar in genre at opposite ends of the list, but in this case, I purposely put the previous review right before this one, because where Lord Huron accomplished emotionally deep and touching tracks through lush and grand arrangements, Molly Drag does just the opposite. They tagged themselves as ‘bedroom pop’ and while I’d usually scoff at such an ambivalent description, like seriously what the fuck even is that, but here it describes the music perfectly. Lo-fi, intimate tracks with minimal arrangements give you the impression you’re in the room with the artist.
Think Red House Painters mixed with Codeine (the band and/or the drug, either way my comparison works) or if Mike Kinsella did an Owen album where he REALLY held back, you can hear that he CAN write using several instruments, but only does so when really needed, giving those moments that much more power. ‘Understanding’ is one of my favorite tracks of the year.
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Butterfly 3000
Seriously, is there anything these guys can’t fucking do? Deceptively deep writing masquerading as simple synth pop. The style is hard to pinpoint, but the intent isn’t: This is happy music designed to make you happy. If you can stop brooding and trying to be evil for a fucking minute then this album will creep into your heart and feel like a warm hug for your soul. It’s not the KG&LG album we wanted, but it’s the one we needed.
Rata Negra – Una Vida Vulgar
La Vida Es Un Mus Discos Punk has become one of my favorite punk labels, delivering a broad variety of bands from the Oi stylings of The Chisel to the post-punk of Chain Cult while passing through the pissed-off rantings of Rat Cage. The label’s variety is perfectly captured in Rata Negra’s latest release, Una Vida Vulgar. Catchy while violent, angry while melodic, this far surpasses their previous releases that seemed more unidirectional. Nods to all of punk’s incarnations are included, from the ’80s to the early 2000s poppy variation, without ever being dated. This is a compilation of all things the spirit of the genre embodies that stands outside of time in a way that pays homage while spearheading the genre forward.
My favorite song changes every time I listen to it, but the opener tends to get stuck in my head more than any other because of the repetitive chorus.
Comatose – A Way Back
FFO: Whirr. You sold yet? I know I’d be. Shoegaze played with the balls of Post Metal and the attitude of grunge. Can something be lite and heavy at the same time? Someone asked that question and these hipsters said ‘Hold my IPA’, stroked their beards, and went to work on this masterful album.
Goat Girl – On All Fours
This one came out early this year and has been in heavy rotation at my place since. Infectious psych pop with a slight penchant for a ‘film noir’ smoky vibe, the kind you usually find in more electronic-based pop bands, which they manage to balance out with the usual hippy-ish tendencies of anything psychedelic-themed. You end up with garage rock that manages to keep away from anything too retro. The colourful, trippy artwork is the perfect introduction to the band’s sound and sets the mood for what you are about to hear when you press play.
One Hundred Moons – One Hundred Moons
Sometimes variety on an album is self-evident at the beginning, but other times it creeps up later on. In this case, when you first hear their MBV-worshiping lead single ‘Fistful Of Maybes’ with its echo-drenched, bending in and out of tune, chords adorned by floating, dreamy, but indecipherable vocals, you’ll think you’ve wrapped your head around One Hundred Moons‘ sound. When you start the actual album, you’ll be surprised at how much more subdued and nuanced the opening songs are, and as the album goes on, you’ll be caught by surprise at the almost post-metal drudgings of ‘Simulated Machines’ and downright flabbergasted by the late-career-Mogwai-meets-Morricone instrumental ‘Future Retro’, and it’s these fun little discoveries spread throughout the album that elevates it from ‘a very good shoegaze album’ to a downright amazing musical experience.
Panam Panic – Love Of Humanity
You never know what you’ll get with the tag Nu Jazz. Might be drum n bass with jazzy samples, might be sax solos over electronics, or it might just be the perfect marriage between the roots of jazz and modern technology. It’d be pretty shitty of me to open with that line if this album didn’t fall squarely in that last category. From the anthemic bombastic horn lines of the opening title track to the dizzying keywork of ‘Fast And Furious’ by way of the unexpected addition of an MC on ‘Chaos’, this album is a voyage to be taken if one wants to be bewildered by the range of dynamics mastered by these amazing musicians.
So that’s it. Hoping to manage to release Tumbleweed Dealer vol. 4 next year and have it appear on all of your lists! Until then you can catch me over at NoGenreBias on Facebook for daily recommendations.