Ethan Daniel Davidson – “Leaving Cheyenne”

I played this one on last month’s radio show, but the more I listen, the deeper it digs. The new LP by songwriter Ethan Daniel Davidson is a wonderfully woolly affair that pulls up close like a knit sweater on cold nights. The LP explores Americana with covers of Blind Reverend Gary Davis, Mississippi John Hurt, Bob Dylan, and Cowboy Joe Babcock alongside some of his own works that spread out just as comfortably under the stars. One of the best moments on the LP is this cover of the traditional cowboy song “Goodbye Old Paint (I’m Leaving Cheyenne).” Davidson keeps the wistful, rambling delivery but compliments the sentiment with a sing-along chorus that feel wonderfully campfire ready and an undercurrent of drone that sounds like it might be didgeridoo or throat singing or some digital approximation of either. Its a nice song to hunker down on the porch as the light dips over the horizon and a damn good argument for Davidson’s LP in general. This is one I haven’t been able to shake. Here’s hoping the same for you.




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Mac Blackout – “Wandering Spheres”

Last time I left Chicago’s Mac Blackout he was burning a pound or so of ozone through the garage-punk stratosphere round about 2017 but in the interim it seems that Mark McKenzie had swapped out the monicker for a new nombre, Armageddon Experimental Band and began dabbling in free jazz and cacophonic float along the same lay lines. Now he’s back with the name Blackout but the garage has been cleared of the grit but packed full of what Armageddon left behind. The new Blackout blends the experimental bent of AEB’s past few years with a bit more heft on the hammer. The first cut from the upcoming Love Profess blasts out of the barrel with McKenzie swapping his guitatr for sax and letting a sinister swelter take over in place of guitar fury. “Wandering Spheres” sees Blackout piping in a low rumble of synth growl and delicate electric piano to McKenzie’s aching sax workout. This certainly isn’t the Blackout you were expecting, but in a year when the ground shifts on an hourly basis, perhaps its the Blackout we need. The record is out November 27th on Trouble in Mind.



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Population II – “Introspection”

Castleface’s international contingent has a strong showing, though mostly from Australia with entires from Total Control, King Gizz, and ORB, but they’ve picked up some swingers from Quebec who are pushing a French-tipped, prog-rifled model that’s as heavy and heady as any in their stable. The band lets some air into the chamber as the album progresses, but opener “Introspection” barrels into the record with a noxious guitar growl, psych-blooze stomp, and some sax scorch just for good measure. The song’s very core is built on the need to let the kernel of rock blossom in the brains of those infected with its ferocity. The band sums it perhaps better, noting that “Introspection is an immersion in the mind of one who feels the energy of raw Rock n ‘Roll running through its veins for the first time. Instantly, comes the need to transmit and amplify it.” The song’s built on the the molten core of ’70 experimentation, melting Amon Düül II and Embryo into a furious export from another time. À La Ô Terre is out October 30th from the West Coast psych stable.




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Matt Lajoie

This year’s already been a pretty great year for Northeast outpost Flower Room, with new releases from Ash & Herb, Starbirthed, rootless, Ash Brooks, and Matt Lajoie but they can’t keep all that goodness to themselves. While Matt and Ash tend to keep their releases close to home, Matt’s solo tapes can often wander far afield. With a companion piece to his excellent Everlasting Spring popping up on Aural Canyon just a couple of months ago, it would seem that he couldn’t possibly have more on the dock for 2020. Yet here we are with the second entry to Trouble in Mind’s new experimental tape run, “Explorers Series,” and Matt’s got more goodness on the spools. The first entry found its way out in June from Chicago duo Jamie Levinson & Donny Mahlmeister and this second installment from LaJoie captures nothing less than the shimmering beauty I’ve come to expect from him in recent years.

At two tracks, one to a side, the tape doesn’t linger long, but the 30 or so minutes that it graces the speakers brighten up any room within reach. The opener “Light Vortex” is a percolating beam bounced off of the morning waters. It rotates with a crystal kaleidoscope of patterns built in sunlight gold and deep azure blues. The flip goes a bit darker in hue, though it remains jubilant, submerging the listener in the aquamarine underworld like Sven Libaek gone glimmer. LaJoie’s catalog is a life buoy in a turbulent tempest of a year, and this one feels like a absolute capper of a trilogy that begs to be enmeshed into your daily life. Can’t wait to see what the “Explorers Series” holds next, but this one is a keeper.




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Kelley Stoltz – “The Quiet Ones”

For those of us who’ve found the entryway into Stoltz’ disorienting alternate history of pop, each new record is a tumble down a new unseen corridor in his secret world. The last record pulled on a crooked tie and a cocked smile for a power pop pub crawl that came and went with only the lucky to nab it for their shelves and the rest to pine. Stoltz is a wily one, though, and he’s not through with 2020 just yet. Another LP looms, with the SF songwriter returning this time to his roots at Agitated Records, stewards of his ’01 kicker Antique Glow. The first taste of Ah-etc packs the power pop back in the suitcase and returns to the lacquered Formica lilt of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Tiptoeing a guitar slink through hallways of chromed keys, the song turns up the voyeurism and eavesdrops on the neighbors, lurking with a queasy charm. Stoltz, ever the Echo & The Bunnymen fan, spent time as a touring member and his bandmate Will Sergeant returns the favor and lends guitar to “The Quiet Ones.” There’s something of a lost afternoon feeling to the track, swirling around the listener and feeding the internal monologue that turns neighbors into puzzles that populate the mind. The loneliness is palpable and the fluorescent flicker just seeps into those synths harder on each listen. The LP is out November 20th from Agitated.

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Daniel Romano

There have been few busier songwriters in 2020 than Daniel Romano. The artist was bound for tour when pandemic grounded him, and as chance had it that meant holing up with the touring band for the time being. They certainly made the most of it with a run of nine albums, mostly released to Bandcamp over the past few months. While the offerings explore many of Romano’s strengths — some curio covers, and genre-dense jaunts — his planned LP for You’ve Changed showcases a seasoned pop master hitting stride and feeling completely comfortable in the gilded pop pedigree that recalls extravagant recording budgets and studio habitations that stretch the limit of necessity. It hearkens to a time of major label spending that would make a young band blush these days. Surprising then, that the band nails this one with the implementation of a few rules that keep it completely crisp and keep them from forwarding mail for months to a studio address. Each song was recorded in order of its appearance on the record and by rule none got more than three takes.

Much of the success of How Ill Thy World Is Ordered then, comes down to the aforementioned backing band, a group of players dubbed The Outfit. The group have been shaping Romano’s stage show up through a near euphoric live record released earlier in the year that serves as a primer for those who haven’t been keeping tabs on Daniel for the last few years. While Okay Wow tallies up the past, the future blossoms in How Ill Thy World Is Ordered. Romano has long had a way with tying the ends of pop, country, and ‘70s rock into a tight package, but this record amplifies each of those impulses, pushing him into grandiosity without wallowing in opulence. Like the shifts towards bigger vistas that inhabited recent records by Kevin Morby and Kyle Thomas, the record doesn’t hold back from letting horns, huge hooks, and stadium-sized backup sections drape over every track here, a feat that makes that three-take limit only more incredible.

There’s a feeling of career shift in the belly of How Ill… and records like My Morning Jacket’s It Still Moves or Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever come to mind, stretching Romano’s reach and never looking back. The horns in “Green Eye Shade” and “Never Yet In Love” rise their songs to the rafters. The guitars crash down like he’s got something to prove in each note. Ardent fans will be more than pleased and newcomers with a soft spot for large-scale pop should find plenty to hold onto here.



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SUSS – “Echo Lake”

There’s been no shortage of Cosmic Country in 2020 and for that I’m grateful. The genre’s been slowly creeping into the crevices of the year to create a billow, sigh-heavy buffer against the indignity of daily life in this fraught year. With that in mind SUSS’ latest scrawl through the ambient arm of that particular Cosmic headspace is a perfect gift this week. The band’s last LP, High Line was a quivering sluice through the slipstreams of the mind and with another dose of earthen ache in the bones of “Echo Lake,” the band looks to be extending their stay in the calm waters of our minds. This one wafts in on echoed pedal steel and nebulous dust clouds of synth just in time for the weather to cool off the scorch of summer. The single’s out now, sounds like an album’s on the horizon soon.




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The Cigarettes – “The Sky’s Not Blue It’s Happy”

There’s no shortage of reissues houses that will dig into their designated corners of the forgotten landscape, but I’ve always admired Anthology for going deep in many directions at once. From surf soundtracks to soft-psych and Swedish legends, the label might not be as cohesive on the surface as others, but their dedication to quality remains a hallmark. This latest is seemingly the beginning of some digital only releases, and its marked as one of the only ones that doesn’t net a lavish physical package, though that shouldn’t reflect on the music itself. The name The Cigarettes was used before (UK punks reissued through Optic Nerve) and surely after this iteration, but this crew from Geelong is worthy of the moniker. The band had another life following the punk and post-punk trail from New York, but they split for the tail end of the ‘70s and wouldn’t reform until the ‘80s.

With few expectations heaped upon their return, the band’s Alan Wright and Mark Gove lead the charge on these recordings and its swerves away from the punk doldrums that might have clogged up their works had they stuck the path without a break. The album works an instrumental approach, slinking through a dirty neon pulse of ‘80s funk and smooth groove. There’s a plastic veneer over their playing that both dates this album instantly and yet also puts it into an odd spectrum of influence that feels reminiscent of recent bands looking to flirt with the past in unexpected ways. That ‘80s heat is all over it, but its not the FM band that we’re talking here. Think late night television, b-movie scores, and wood-paneled clubs with dismal cover charges. This is a nice retrospective from Anthology that speaks to their ability to dig up some of the best of the binned visions of the past.




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Pearl Charles – “What I Need”

There was an inkling of change that snuck into the subtle EP that slipped out from Pearl Charles earlier this summer. The reworking of “Night Tides” from a disco romp into a country cool down was an unexpected treat this year. Charles’ new LP for Kanine follows suit in the best ways, trading off the ‘70s sweat of a dancefloor hangover for a quiet twilight in the bungalow alone, spinning the euphoria of the night into a melancholy melt that tugs at the suede center of the soul. Hung on a slouched organ line and sundown slides, the first single “What I Need” sums up the album nicely — a lone saunter down the strip with a chill in the air, smoke and sweat escaping into the atmosphere. The buzz of the night is coursing through the veins right up until the moment when a bittersweet lump forms in the throat. While it’s quite naturally about how this feeling might arise in the end of a relationship, the analogy works the same as any whirlwind night. There’s a knowing feeling that washes over you, an ache that enters, knowing that its over before you hit the sheets, stuck between bliss and the emptiness of a lonesome morning. Her last album waded into several pop waters, but this one dives into the deep end with a confidence that’s hard to shake. The record arrives January 15th on Kanine.



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Lavender Flu – “Rake The Face”

One Lavender Flu LP has already hit the shelves this year but it seems there’s another on the way from the Chris Gunn lead group. This time the fidelity’s crumbling like an accurate reflection of society in 2020, but the gutpunch grit of The Flu remains. Gunn’s songwriting has always straddled psych and the noisier end of the indie spectrum and this LP seems bound to let the lines blur even further. Lead single “Rake The Face” churns a bright buzz within its tape hiss hovel of sound. Pushing against the walls of redline in all direction the song has a clammy sweat groove that’s more cold turkey desperation than turbulent dance. There was some tenderness in the last Lav Flu, but this one seems to be packed with panic, pain, and a wash of noise. Tomorrow Cleaners lands in late October from MEDS.



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