Happy holidays from Team Sisson, and congratulations on receiving Chris Schuck's 19th Annual Surprise Birthday Bash for Jesus. As always, we've picked and exquisitely sequenced tracks from 21 (well, really 18....you'll see) of our favorite albums of 2020 for your listening pleasure. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do.
1. Iglooghost - "Eoe (Disk*Initiate)"
As above, we have always tried to sell The Bash as a collection of songs from our favorite albums of the year. As an aside (just one sentence into it this year...buckle your seatbelts people) the original inspiration for this whole Birthday Bash concept was Jason Cafer's best of the year compilation mix you would find at the listening station at Streetside Records in Columbia in the late 90's/early 2000's (wanna feel old?). Jason Cafer is now a psychiatrist and Medical Director for Behavioral Health Services at SSM Health/St. Mary's Hospital in Jefferson City, as well as a published author of some pretty good psych pharmacology reference books, but back then, while he was in school at Mizzou he had a show on our college station and was plugged in to both the local and national indie music scene in a way that really impressed me. As I'm reminiscing here, I also remember he got in some hot water after he played a song in the middle of the night with some questionable lyrics that a Karen had a problem with. Ah the memories. Anyway, "Eoe(Disk*Initiate)" is not on an album, nor do I have any suspiscion it ever will be, although you can buy this song as an album on Bandcamp (which I did). However, it's probably the best thing I've heard all year so I had to include it, and not only that, but I made it the opener to what promises out to be another killer Birthday Bash. Let's go!!!!!!!!
2. BC Camplight - "I Only Drink When I'm Drunk"
Album: Shortly After Takeoff
Here's a peek behind the curtain for you. Occasionally I'll check the metacritic album score rankings for the current year to see if there's anything I've missed that's been getting a lot of buzz. This is rarely a fruitful exercise, but a couple of months ago I took a chance on Shortly After Takeoff after seeing it pretty high on the 2020 list (as of press time it's the 10th most critically lauded album of the year). The opener "I Only Drink When I'm Drunk" sucked me in. I stuck around for "Ghosthunting,"thinking "Back To Work" slaps, and before you know it I'm on my third listen and loving every minute of it. I wouldn't say this is happy or uplifting music...so it's perfect for the 2020 Bash.
Also check out: "Cemetery Lifestyle"
You guys know I'm always scanning the Arts & Entertainment sections of Irish newspapers to look for up and coming bands. Well, when I saw The Galway Advertiser named The Clockworks Best Galway Band 2020, I had to take a listen! From the write-up: "GALWAY HAS produced many fine rock bands over the years, but none has ever caused the stir outside of Ireland in the way The Clockworks have.
Signed to Alan McGee's Creation23 label, praised by Annie Mac of the BBC, and, pre-Covid, enjoying sell-out gigs in London, the hype is entirely justified. Stripped down riffing, that combines a punk energy with an indie sense of melody, and a strong, socio-political point of view, The Clockworks - James McGregor (vocals/guitar ), Sean Connelly (guitar ), Damian Greaney (drums ), Tom Freeman (bass ) - are a band with something to say, and they say it wrapped in thrilling tunes."
These guys have yet to release a proper album, but I couldn't keep "Enough Is Never Enough" off The Bash. These fingers are made for pointing!
4. Painted Shield - "On the Level"
Album: Painted Shield
I should probably keep this to myself, but I came thiiiis close to including a track from the new Pearl Jam record Gigaton. Make fun of me all you want buy guys, it seriously slaps. As a compromise I'm giving you "On the Level" from Stone Gossard's project Painted Shield. Team Sisson favorite Mason Jennings provides vocals along with keys from Brittany Davis and drums from Matt Chamberlain (you've probably heard the name) to round out the group. Jeff and Mike from PJ also contribute here and there. Also, quite unbelievably it seems Stone and Mason have never actually met. From a Rolling Stone writeup: "In the meantime, the band is just looking forward to getting together in the same room, something they have yet to do. 'Can you imagine when we all might be in the same state?' Gossard asks. 'And what does that look like?’ We’re hoping to get the first group hug filmed. We want to document it. We’ll be like, ‘Oh my God. I’m actually able to touch you.” Here's hoping these guys actually get together and tour someday when the world gets back on track. Cory, you in?
Album: Brave Faces Everyone
From the Kerrang review: "To say that Spanish Love Songs wear their trauma on their sleeves is an understatement. Fronted by vocalist/guitarist Dylan Slocum, the LA-based quintet have been venting their various frustrations via their Menzingers-ish, gruff-yet-melodic punk rock since 2015’s debut LP, Giant Sings The Blues. Things are no better on this third record. ‘It won’t be this bleak forever,’ Dylan sings on second track Self-Destruction – his voice trembling, as it usually does, as if he’s on the verge of tears – before adding a sly, sarcastic ‘Yeah, right’ to an already unconvincing statement. The truth is – as this album’s title suggests – everything is fucked. These are tales of broken hearts and broken homes, drug abuse and booze, friends dying and loved ones lying, not to mention the drudgery of day-to-day life in a world that, as Dylan sings on Kick, is going to do just that to you. In other words, it will be this bleak forever and there’s nothing anybody can do about it." Brave Faces Everyone seems mainly to be music as therapy for the lead singer. I'm often amazed and thankful that there are people in this world who wear their emotions on their sleeve like this. If I had a therapist I don't think I'd say half the stuff this guy screams into a microphone for the world to hear. I absolutely love this record, and I think you do too.
6. Run The Jewels - "out of sight (feat. 2 Chainz)"
Bangers baby! I can't believe RTJ is still a thing, but these guys have stumbled on to the rap coca-cola formula so they'd be dumb to end it. Plus it seems like they've been best bros from day one. We first caught the El-P (El-Producto)/Killer Mike bug when back in 2012 the former produced the latter's solo record R.A.P. Music which remains to this day one of our favorites. At the time we only knew Killer Mike from a couple of verses he contributed to Outkast songs, one of which was on the Scooby Doo soundtrack. After that record El-P, who was already a legendary MC stepped out from behind the mixing board to join Mike behind the mike and they have been crushing it with RTJ ever since. We really struggled with picking a track to include on The Bash this year. "JU$T" was the obvious choice, but if you haven't already heard that one, I just feel sorry for you. BTW, check out the phenomenal Song Exploder episode about JU$T. Really interesting stuff. Speaking of interesting, El-P is four years older than me. Wanna feel young?
7. Yves Tumor - "Gospel For A New Century"
Album: Heaven To A Tortured Mind
I would attempt to explain Yves Tumor to you, but as the Spotify bio states: "Few projects at the forefront of contemporary art truly push visceral sonic boundaries in the way that Yves Tumor does. With an arc that impartially sits between psych-rock and modern pop, comparisons only sere as limitations intended to define that which cannot be. Yves Tumor melds restraint and chaos; diluting reality by giving meaning to the abstract and allowing for dissonance to be seen and heard as harmony." Damn! Heaven To A Tortured Mind might be the most critically acclaimed record on The Bash this year coming in at #7 on Pitchfork's 50 Best Albums of 2020 list, with "Gospel For a New Century" as in my opinion the standout track. Not just my opinion though, Pitchfork ranked it at #7 on their 100 Best Songs of 2020 list. For those who question why I continue to reference Pitchfork I really have no answer. I know they were bought by Condé Nast in 2015, laid off a ton of their staff and are no longer the authority on music they once were. That being said, the writers they still have are pretty solid and no other entity has stepped up since to take the throne. I also never leave home without American Express travelers checks so maybe I just like to live in the past. Anyway, here's the Pitchfork writeup: "On 'Gospel for a New Century,' Yves Tumor preaches the fr eedom to exist as they are. That means fully inhabiting their newfound rock star persona and doing away with the thin line between art and artifice. In one moment, Yves is dragging serrated horn samples across cavernous guitars; in the next, they’re casually settling into a groove worthy of Prince. This is a love song at its core but, facing down the barrel of this year, its sense of longing resonates further than that. 'How much longer till December?' Yves asks at the end of the chorus. However far away, it can’t come soon enough."
8. The Kraken Quartet, Adobo - "Hold My Breath"
Here's how The Kraken Quartet describe themselves on their website: A massive force of percussion and electronics, The Kraken Quartet is a genre-crossing group known for its highly energetic and engaging performances. Since their formation in 2012, the Austin-based band has been heralded for merging elements of minimalism, math-rock, indie, post-rock, electronica, and the avant-garde. I'd never heard of them until this year and guys, they're really good. From what I've seen of them they don't really fit anywhere, but they're the kind of band you would happen upon in an opening slot or an afternoon at a festival and become the thing you were most excited that you saw. This year they teamed up with Adobo (singer and guitarist of the band Hikes) for a four song EP that we've been loving since we heard it.
Also check out: "Backdrop"
9. Hachiku - "I'll Probably Be Asleep"
Album: I'll Probably Be Asleep
Hachiku was another NPR music discovery for us. We freaking love the sonics on this record. From the Louder Than War review: "As a whole, I’ll Probably Be Asleep has a certain homespun feel to it: intricately and delicately put together. Every track is heavily layered, with Hachiku building them up like a dreamy sonic soup. Along with the heavy use of reverb, it makes many of the songs difficult to unpick; working out the exact source of each sound is an impossible task."
10. Bartees Strange - "Mustang"
Album: Live Forever
"Mustang" came in #36 on Pitchfork's 100 Best Songs of 2020 list. From the writeup: "With 'Mustang,' Bartees Strange took everything he knew about indie rock and put it into one massive song. Set to walls of guitar and synth hooks, his lyrics contain a nod to the music that inspired him as a Black teenager interested in punk and indie, and to the unfulfilling jobs he worked for years to pay the bills before quitting to focus on performing and producing. A lot has been made of a Bartees Strange being black man from a suburb of Oklahoma City (Mustang) who grew up listening to and performing in rock/punk/hardcore bands, but we can't criticize as it really is a good story. If Wikipedia can be trusted on the matter, Mustang, Oklahoma appears to be an incredibly boring place. We were planning on giving you "Boomer" for most of the year, but called a last second audible and really, either one would have made you extremely happy. Just try to wipe that smile off your face! You can't do it!
11. M. Ward - "Independent Man"
Album: Migration Stories
We've been M. Ward fans since 2003's Transfiguration of Vincent. I could listen to M. Ward sing the phone book. Better yet, I could listen to M. Ward sing one of Donnie T's nonsensical run-on sentences (i.e. Look, having nuclear—my uncle was a great professor and scientist and engineer, Dr. John Trump at MIT; good genes, very good genes, OK, very smart, the Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart—you know, if you’re a conservative Republican, if I were a liberal, if, like, OK, if I ran as a liberal Democrat, they would say I'm one of the smartest people anywhere in the world—it’s true!—but when you're a conservative Republican they try—oh, do they do a number..........it goes on from there). Not to make light of the dead, but the Pitchfork review also mentions our former dear leader: "Under the Donald J. Trump administration, singing about migration is an explicitly political act. But M. Ward is constitutionally predisposed towards mystery and understatement, so his Migration Stories sidesteps protests and outrages. The album, Ward’s 10th as a solo artist, unfurls at a deliberate pace, luxuriating in a dreamworld conjured out of memories, shared stories, and flights of fancy." Here's his Tiny Desk Home Concert.
12. Chester Watson - "Porcelain Geisha"
Album: A Japanese Horror Film
Long time Birthday Bash fans probably recognize the formula for the track listing always includes a minimum of three and a maximum five purely hip-hop/rap songs. This year we hit our minimum quota, albeit with three artists that have all been featured on previous Bash offerings. Now that we've completed production on the physical media, my annual mixtape maker's remorse revolves around a desire to have included something off the impeccable Blu & Exile's Miles. That is not to say though Chester Watson does not belong here. Quite the contrary, this former ballet dancer and son of a Bar-Kay has become one of my favorite rappers out there. His vocal style makes it seem as though he's expending as little effort as possible, but the complexity of his rhymes tells a different story.
Also check out: "Life Wrote Itself"
13. King Krule - "Comet Face"
Album: Man Alive!
From the Pitchfork review: "The lanky London outlaw with cement-mixer lungs delivers his most anguished album yet, in which impending fatherhood collides with his habitual torments." Cement-mixer lungs! We came thiiis close to bringing you something from King Krule's 2017 The OOZ (probably the Sisson boys' favorite "Dum Surfer"), but while we loved the sound on The OOZ we decided you guys might dislike the lack of melody and overall unpleasantness. That same sound is largely present on Man Alive!, but we couldn't resist introducing you to it a second time. For most of the year we had "Alone, Omen 3" on the tentative Bash track listing but made a last second switch to "Comet Face."
Also check out: "Stoned Again"
14. Moon Hooch - "#4 Solo"
Album: Life on Other Planets
In recent years we've fallen back in love with the saxaphone, in no small part thanks to bands like Too Many Zooz (thanks for the rec Eddie!) and Moon Hooch. Both of these bands started out busking in NYC subway stations and have since moved above ground to take over the world, or at least fill this specific little niche that we can't get enough of. Speaking of their commonality, check out "Stonk" featuring Leo P from Too Many Zooz. Moon Hooch was first brought to our attention by NPR Music back in 2013, and in 2014 we featured a track from This Is Cave Music on that year's epic Bash. From their bio: "Though the band—whose members initially met as students at the New School—turned heads in the music industry as relative unknowns with a charismatic, unconventional sound (they play with unique tonguing techniques and utilize found objects like traffic cones attached to the bells of their horns to manipulate tone, for instance), they were already a familiar and beloved sight to strangers in New York, who would react with such joy and fervor to their impromptu subway platform sets that the NYPD had to ban them from locations that couldn’t handle the crowds. NY Mag once referred to their sound as 'Jay Gatsby on ecstasy,' while the NY Post fell for their 'catchy melodic hooks and funky rhythms,' saying they had 'the power to make you secretly wish that the short [subway] wait becomes an indefinite delay.” Listen to literally any of their songs/watch any of their videos and tell me you wouldn't be sweaty at the end of one of their shows. I can't wait to soak two shirts and then buy some merch (ironically probably a shirt) someday when I see these guys live. In addition to playing melt your face of sax jams, they're also also doing Cameos now so if you're looking for a last minute Christmas gift.....
15. Marlowe - "O.G. Funk Rock" feat. A-F-R-O
Album: Marlowe 2
L'Orange is becoming, at least for us Danger Mouse 2.0. Danger Mouse of course years ago went on an incredible run of producing some of the out favorite music year after year from Danger Doom to Gnarls Barkley to Beck to The Black Keys to The Good The Bad & The Queen. Someone can dig in to our archives to fact check this, but I think at one point we had featured a Danger Mouse produced track at least six years in a row on The Bash. He's not there yet, but L'Orange has now made our "Three Timers Club." We first introduced you to L'Orange's sick ass beats with Marlowe just two years ago when we blessed your with "Lost Arts" from their self-titled debut. Then last year we brought you a track from his collaboration with Jeremiah Jae, Complicate You Life With Violence. L'Orange is back this year with rapper Solemn Brigham to bring us the Marlowe 2. From the Medium review: "Marlowe 2 feels like both artists stepping it up in a major way. L’Orange appears to experiment even more than usual this time around with various sounds and styles from both music and apparently radio theater, never straying too far away from his signature traits of dusty boom-bap with a sort of ominous vibe, but also never offering up anything that sounds like something he’s previously done, and the whole album has a nice variety to accompany the vocals. As for Solemn, he shreds every verse he drops on here, showing off his flow and delivery even more. Just peep the opening song “Spring Kick”. Brigham keeps rapping until his vocals just fade out with the beat, never letting up, resulting in the track sounding like a legitimate kick to the face in the best way possible." I don't know about you, but I love it when music sounds like a kick to the face. Seriously, check out Marlowe 2.
16. Nada Surf - "Something I Should Do"
Album: Never Not Together
As I do these write-ups I'm starting to realize the overall tone of The Bash this year is super super depressing. So, here's some Nada Surf to turn that frown upside down! Holy math says we're never not together.
Also check out: "So Much Love"
17. The Arosa - "In Chemicals"
Here we come to the third track on The Bash that has yet to be featured on a proper album. In our defense we added "In Chemicals" to our Best of 2020 list in mid-March so typically by now there would be something more substantial to talk about. In the past we'd just move this to the maybe pile for next year, but nothing makes sense anymore and all we know is we've been wearing this track out all year so in case this is the last time we get to do this we want to go out guns blazing! Despite no evidence of an album there's an "official video,' though at press time it's only had 549 views (wait, what????). Can we really be the only people who have been smitten by the repeated crash heavy builds into a steady beat complete with the fills that fill our souls? There's not a lot out there about them, but Spotify says they're "young English hounds out of Birmingham who combine British flair, British panache and British swagger in a most exciting way. Flaming guitars with a Stone Roses resonance, machine-gun drums, chant-like vocals and a highly infectious chorus to yell out at the top of your vibrating lungs." I mean, that sounds like the best thing ever, and after listening to "In Chemicals," I bet you'll have a hard time arguing.
18. House of Teeth - "Dophin Megapod (it's just fucking pure energy)" feat. guitar by Madeline Normand
Album: Turnstile Stopped
Speaking of not a lot out there, we bring you a track and artist that seem to exist off the grid. Please click the track link above. At press time it has an unbelievable 3 views. Google House of Teeth and you'll get results for a bunch of dentist offices and creepy ass books. Google House of Teeth music and you'll find a bandcamp page and a facebook page. From the looks of the FB page this band was active in 2013-2014 and not a lot since. We took a chance on Turnstile Stopped after seeing a post about it on one of music subreddits last month and were obviously impressed. But look guys, we're not here to wonder why others haven't seen the light, but to tell you why we did. This music makes us smile! Full stop. I bet it makes you smile too. What else do you want?
19. Drive-By Truckers - "Babies in Cages"
Album: The Unraveling
Alright, not all of these will make you smile. Y'all know the DBT's are among my top five favorite bands of all time. They've historically been pretty prolific at releasing albums, but it's been 4 years since they released American Band, which I am in the minority of DBT fans in ranking as one their best works. Patterson and Cooley have talked about a bout of writers block that set in after American Band, but the floodgates have opened back up as this year they released both The Unraveling and The New OK. Neither are masterpieces, but both are solid as sears!
Album: Fantasize Your Ghost
For my birthday last year, my loving, beautiful wife got us tickets to see Jeff Tweedy at the Canal Shores Golf Course in Evanston, IL. We made a weekend of it, calling into service her brother Brian and his fiancé Melody who reside in Chicago as guides. After some very touristy activities we all attended the show along with thousands of other Chicagoans who spread picnic blankets across the the 18th fairway of this golf course. It was an exceedingly pleasant setting, but as dusk enveloped us we were jarred into reality by the angular bass and guitar of the opening act who I later learned were something of a big deal in Chicago. Of course I'm talking about Ohmme. I'd hoped to tell you this story last year, but the song I was most smitten by at the show, "Give Me Back My Man" wasn't on and album released that year. In fact, it wasn't on their 2020 album Fantasize Your Ghost either. Apparently it's a B-52's cover so they just play it live. No worries, FYG is chock full of tracks you will enjoy the hell out of. From the Paste review: "...Fantasize Your Ghost makes it clear that Ohmme can run circles around most rock bands. Their use of fascinating texture and consideration for every layer of their songs—whether subtle or overt—is a gift. Even their more traditionally-structured songs like “The Limit” or “Some Kind of Calm” contain intrigue and finesse. A record like Fantasize Your Ghost could only come from a band that’s equally thoughtful and inventive as they are technically sound. Each spark of this record has the potential to flicker and fade or explode with great magnitude, and those unforeseen outcomes will leave listeners hanging on their every note."
Album: A Hero's Death
We close out yet another killer Birthday Bash with yet another killer track from these Irish lads, who were featured just a year ago with the track "Too Real" from Dogrel. We've been digging A Hero's Death since it came out this summer. To launch the album they live streamed a performance of the entire track list, calling it A Night At Montrose. Here's "A Lucid Dream" from that performance. Wait...Montrose? Did they really play the Knights hall in my hometown? The VFW? Short Street Tavern? Ok, upon some investigation it appears this was recorded/streamed from a studio at 2FM, RTE which as far as I can tell is a radio station in a Dublin neighborhood called Montrose. Maybe it's an Irish version of the KEXP studio? Anyway, hope you like it. Here's their La Blogotheque Takeaway Show
Here are some other albums that were in contention and deserving of recognition this year.
Blu & Exile - Miles
Algiers - There Is No Year
Shabaka and the Ancestors - We Are Sent Here By History
Kassa Overall - I THINK I'M GOOD
Pictures of Venom - bug
Lanterns on the Lake - Spook The Herd
Andrew R Morris - One Fine Sweet and Sunny Day
Loma - Octillo
Jonsi - Shiver
Emile T. - Don't Get Buried in Your Hometown
Aesop Rock - Spirit World Field Guide
Dylan Cartlidge - Yellow Brick Road
Partner - Never Give Up
Once again, happy holidays from Team Sisson! Have a great 2021!