We'll kick off the 20th anniversary edition of the Birthday Bash with local act The Greeting Committee, making their second appearance after being featured in 2018 with "17" off of This Is It. These guys are getting bigger and bigger both in their national profile and in their sound. You heard the first 39 seconds of "Ada." Are you freaking kidding me? What 39 seconds of anything have you heard this year that was better than that? If you're interested the GC will be heading out on a pretty impressive two month American tour next year that ends with a hometown show at the Uptown Theater on April 9th. We'll see you there! Making it on to the 20th Anniversary edition of the Birthday Bash isn't the only accolade the GC have racked up this year. Exclaim! named Dandelion to their list of the 30 worst album covers of 2021. It's not that bad though right???? Ok, it's pretty bad but hey, you don't have to look at it, just listen!
2. Squid - "Narrator"
Album: Bright Green Field
First of all, check out the run time on "Narrator." One of our goals with the Birthday Bash is to cram as many tracks into the old fashioned 80 minutes max run time afforded by the compact disc you no doubt are wondering how you would even play. In fact, this year our first track list came in at exactly 80:00 minutes which was exactly ONE SECOND too long. This caused, at first a lot of swearing, then a complete tear down/re-build of the track list. At this point you're asking yourself, why make a CD at all? Why open yourself up to the limitations of this antiquated format? None of us have CD players anymore! Ok, great questions and comments everyone. Don't think I'm not wondering the same thing every year around this time. This would be so much easier if it was just a Spotify playlist. I guess that's really the answer though. If it was easy it wouldn't mean anything. If it was just the playlist I would have been done weeks ago, and none of you would care. I choose to do the rest of it......that is burn the CDs, create the artwork, print the CDs, print the CD jackets, cut the CD jackets out and slide them into the jewel cases, address the bubble mailers, mail them, update the website.......in the hopes that when you find the Birthday Bash in your mailbox there is an implicit understanding that this thing took a lot of effort. And that effort means I really want you to listen to these tunes because maybe you haven't heard some of them, and I'm hoping your new favorite song is in here somewhere. And I know it is, because every year I find my new favorite song by doing this. So anyway, we probably could have picked something shorter from BGF and made room for one or two more artists, but "Narrator" is so gosh darn good we really had no choice. Also, you may be interested to know Squid is one of those weird bands where the drummer is the lead singer. How do they do that?
3. Low - "Disappearing"
Album: HEY WHAT
God this album is good. How can you not love this sound?!?! Low return to the Birthday Bash after appearing on the 2018 edition with Double Negative. This husband and wife duo have been making great albums for over 20 years (talk about relationship goals), but really punched us in the stomach when they took their usual formula and added an absolutely insane amount of distortion on Double Negative. Hey What is more of the same and as the kids say, we're here for it! This was one of many albums this year where it was really hard to decide which song to include. At first it was going to be the single "Days Like These" (Pitchforks's #3 Best Song of 2021). Then when the album came out we fell in love with the opener "White Horses," but we felt the last 90 seconds of syncopated beeps and boops might be too much for some of you so we arrived at "Disappearing." I don't hear any complaints.
4. Black Country, New Road - "Science Fair"
Album: For the first time
The morning of February 8, 2021 was not a good one for me. For one thing, this was the morning of a travel day and the end of a a beautiful ski weekend in Telluride, CO where I and Tim Laycock along with three other skiing lawyers shredded the mountain by day and stayed in the ski-in condo closest to the primary lift in the whole resort. It should have been magical, and really it was until the evening of February 7, when we gathered after our last day on the slopes in the aforementioned condo to watch the most inexplicable Super Bowl (oops, I mean Big Game,.....please don't sue me NFL) of all time where my beloved Chiefs managed to not only lose to but get destroyed by a cartoon team with a quarterback older than me. Needless to say I was looking for an escape the next morning so I popped in the ear buds, found a "best music out this week" thread on Reddit and started jamming while doing payroll and waiting for the other guys to wake up. You see where the is going. For the first time had just been released so I took a listen and was hooked immediately by the opener "Instrumental" (which ironically is an instrumental). Obviously I was on an emotional rebound at the time so I was prone to find pleasure in just about anything to chase away the blues, but Black Country, New Road has remained one of my favorites all year. And guys, did you hear that? They have a sax player! How could we not love this band. We're not the only ones though. BC,NR have been critical darlings since they started gigging around London in 2018. For most of the year I thought I'd bring you "Athens, France" but made a last minute switch to "Science Fair." There are only six tracks on the LP and all of them are good so you can't go wrong.
Also check out: "Track X",
5. Viagra Boys feat. Amy Taylor - "In Spite of Ourselves"
Album: Welfare Jazz
At least a couple of you may recognize "In Spite of Ourselves" as a cover of a John Prine song. Big thanks to Cory for taking me to see John Prine a few years ago pre-COVID (feels like a few centuries ago) before he (John Prine that is) passed on after contracting, let's see what it says here, oh for f's sake, COVID. Anyway, Welfare Jazz came out super early in 2021 and I listened to the whole thing and really liked it, but when I heard the closer I knew it would be on the Bash this year. They took this sweet and playful song and without changing any of the lyrics turned it in to something way more sinister and gnarly, but while keeping the overall catchiness of the melody. I haven't looked at my Spotify summary for the year. I don't have to actually because I know this is the song I listened to the most this year. And hey, as before the rest of Welfare Jazz rocks too. I mean they do have a sax player. Y'all know how we feel about the sax.
6. The Martha's Vineyard Ferries - "After You"
Album: Suns Out Guns Out
I don't remember where we heard it, but at some point in the spring of 2021 we were introduced to/blown away by The MVFs through the excellent song "Jail Material". The band is comprised of members from other decently well known acts like Shellac & Codeine. If that doesn't impress you, from their bandcamp page: "Over the course of two prior releases — 2010’s ‘In The Pond’ (Sickroom) and 2013’s ‘Mass Grave’ (Kiam) — The Martha’s Vineyard Ferries quietly carved out a high-IQ corner of the U.S. rock underground reserved for taut, deathly catchy songs that showcased deft (if get-to-the-point) instrumentation. That the band have been kinda/sorta under the collective radar has more to do with their being otherwise occupied (more on that in a minute) than a lack of artistic ambition; they’ve slayed before and after a long break, they’re back to slay again." I don't know why I event try to come up with anything to say about these bands. What they all write on their bandcamp pages is so much better.
Also check out: "Betty Ford James"
7. Abstract Mindstate feat. Kanye West - "The Brenda Song"
Album: Dreams Still Inspire
Toward the end of the year I was going through the potentials list and noticed an unusual lack of rap/hip-hop artists so I think I either found an underground hip-hop blog or playlist or something (all I really remember is I was painting Sixty's room at the time). However it happened I came across this throwback song called "A Wise Tale" that I really liked by some duo called Abstract Mindstate. Turns out Abstract Mindstate was seminal duo in the Chicago rap scene in the 90's and early 2000's. They never caught their big break and eventually got on with their 9 to 5 lives with the rest of us. Then, apparently during his 2018 Wyoming recording sessions, Kanye overcame a bout of writers block while listening to one of their old mix tapes, so as a thank you he offered to produce an album for them if they got back together, and thus Dreams Still Inspire was born. I'm not sure this ended up being a super big break for them. I mean face it, not one of you had heard of them until this moment, but now you've heard of them and you know Dreams Still Inspire is damn good. Tell a friend. Buy a t-shirt. Watch their movie. Oh yeah, there's a trailer for a documentary about them out there. Not sure when or where it will be released, but I'll give it a watch. Now, this next part has nothing to do with Abstract Mindstate, but I would be remiss if I neglected to mention my best local hip hop story of the year. One hot Saturday this summer I found myself without refreshments so I went to my favorite liquor store, Pina Wine & Spirits in Raymore to grab a few Pale Ales. As I made my way back to the beer cooler I noticed two young men dancing and holding fanned out handfuls of what I have to assume was monopoly money. As I got closer I saw someone was filming them and realized I had walked into a music video. These guys were doing a guerilla hip hop video in the my liquor store! I just tried to find it on youtube and it doesnt look like they put up whatever they shot that day. Maybe because I walked in front of them as they were pantomiming their rap. Maybe because rapping in front of a bud light display featuring a cardboard cutout of Travis Kelce doesn't look as cool as they thought it would. Anyway, after selecting my cold foamers I talked with the young artists and learned the rapper was named El Leiko and the song featured his cousin Baby Zo. I promised them I'd look them up on Spotify which I promptly did, and guys, I really wanted to like it but yikes. That's all I'm going to say. Anyway, please check out my new friend El Leiko. Nice kid. Oh right, also check out Abstract Mindstate.
Also check out: "Move Yo Body"
8. Wavves - "Sinking Feeling"
I say this every year, but more than ever I have almost no idea what any of you may have heard this year. How do you all consume music? Terrestrial radio? Satellite? YouTube music? I don't think it's much of a secret I have always tried to make this thing a collection of songs that hopefully are mostly new to you guys. So here we are at "Sinking Feeling." More than any other song on the Bash this year I feel like this one might actually be a top 40 or modern rock radio hit, so if you've already heard it a hundred times I apologize. If not, you're welcome. I'm no musician so I can't explain it, but there's something off about the chord progression of this song, but in a good way. I can't get enough of whatever it is. If this impresses you, Hideaway was produced by Dave Sitek. Yes, that Dave Sitek (from TV on the Radio...the same Dave Sitek who attached wind chimes to the head of his guitar when Mrs. Sisson and I saw them that magical week when we saw first TV on the Radio, then The Roots at the Ameristar Casino in KC many years ago, and haven't been back one time since!)!
9. Parquet Courts - "Black Widow Spider"
Album: Sympathy for Life
So, "Walking at a Downtown Pace" may actually have been the song of the year, but surely you've heard it a bunch of times already. If not you might want to re-think what you've been allowing into your ears this year. OK, at this point its cliché for me to say when Parquet Court first came on to the scene I thought they'd be a gimmick act. Their first hit was "Stoned and Starving" which I felt was light on being good but heavy on references to things a certain subset of the population would like no mater what the music sounded like. Here we are 8 years later and the PQs have release three additional albums, all of which have been featured on the Bash so I have to ask myself, are the Parquet Courts one of my favorite bands? Maybe! Are they one of yours?
From the Amoeba summary: "1975 is songwriter/scholar Julian Saporiti's new album for his multi-media No-No Boy project. Saporiti tackles the complex issues of immigration and the Asian American experience with impeccably arranged folk/rock songs that include clips from field recordings." You guys know I'm always up for some folk songs about the struggles of Asian American immigrants (see Kishi Bashi from the 2019 Bash). That being said TBGDBiW hooked me right away mostly due to the geography of the song. As you may know, both of my parents attended the University of Wyoming where they met and eventually, well, created the conditions that led to this 20 year run of amazing end of year mix CDs. One of the jokes in my family growing up is my dad wanted to name me Thermopolis which is a town (maybe city by Wyoming standards) in central Wyoming known for its hot springs. When I heard the line "bunch of Japs playing jazz at the Thermopolis prom" I knew you guys had to hear it too. Hope you like it.
Also check out: "Imperial Twist"
11. Typhoon - "Empire Builder"
Album: Sympathetic Magic
Long time listeners may have noticed I have a real weakness for Typhoon. I try every year to limit the number of repeat Bash artists, and this year did a better job than usual with only four double dippers, but try as I might I couldn't keep Sympathetic Magic off my list. Typhoon is a Portland eight piece (yeah, eight) we've loved since 2010's Hunger and Thirst.
Album: Home Video
If you're the type to listen to NPR there's a good chance you've at least heard of Lucy Dacus. She's been a favorite of the All Songs Considered team for a while now. I guess if it was a secret now you know we're an NPR family and thus we've been smitten with Home Video all year too. I naively thought I'd maybe bring you "VBS" or "Hot and Heavy," but let's be real with each other. There was really no chance you'd be listening to anything besides "Thumbs" right now. I don't think I need to explain what the song's about. She splits it open and lays it on the table for you to admire/be horrified. You should really check out the awesome Song Xploder podcast about "Thumbs."
13. Ben Caplan - "Down to the River - reimagined"
Album: recollection (reimagined)
I was introduced to Ben Caplan through the song "Birds With Broken Wings" which would almost certainly made it on to the 2015 Bash had I heard it that year. Digging in to his catalog I came across "Down to the River" which was on 2011's In the Time of the Great Remembering and is another song I've always kicked myself for not hearing in time to share with you. Then this year Mr. Caplan released an album of stripped down, re-recorded (reimagined) songs featuring mainly acoustic guitar, piano and his impressive voice. From the Great Dark Wonder review: “For years, I‘ve had friends and fans express their desire to have recordings of my songs being performed solo,” he recalls. The pandemic "was the time to finally take on that project." I hope you give a listen to his back catalog and see which version of "Down to the River" you prefer. Either way, just know that a drowning man is just a living man who hasn't run out of his last bit of breath. Sigh.
14. TV Priest - "Decoration"
I seriously think I could have filled at least half of the 2021 Bash tracklist with UK rock bands. Apologies to Black Midi, Idles & Yard Act all of whom narrowly missed the cut this year with their respective fantastic albums. Believe it or not I was introduced to TV Priest that same eventful morning I described back in the Black Country, New Road section. My favorite favorite of the year is still coming up, but TV Priest is super close to the the top.
Also check out: "Press Gang"
15. Teen Mortgage - "Shangri-La"
From their bandcamp bio: "Washington DC’s tinnitus transmitting twosome, Teen Mortgage, return post pandemic with Smoked, their 2nd release through greasy Brooklyn cassette slingers, King Pizza Records. Once again, the duo are back to smack you over the head with seething surf punk riffs setting the scene to explain this cultural wasteland they call America." Rock and Roll baby! They released the single "Such Is Life" very early in 2021 and I've been banging my head to it all year. In October they released the five song EP "Smoked" which doesn't actually include "Such Is Life," but hey, such is life.
16. Springtime - "Will To Power"
Sprimgtime are an art-rock featuring Australian musicians Gareth Liddiard (the Drones/Tropical Fuck Storm), Jim White (Xylouris White/Dirty Three), and Chris Abrahams (The Necks). BTW, I was introduced to Tropical Fuck Storm this summer through the track "Soft Power" from 2018's A Laughing Death in Meatspace and subsequently went on a very enjoyable TFS deep dive. They released Deep States this year which I enjoyed but didn't hook me the way Springtime did.
Also check out: "The Viaduct Love Suicide"
17. Homeboy Sandman - "FYI"
Anjelitu is an EP consisting of six tracks, all of which were produced by Team Sisson favorite, and long time Homeboy Sandman collaborator Aesop Rock. In fact, Aesop's own Garbology was in strong consideration for the Bash this year. From the rapreviews writeup: "It doesn’t hurt Sandman at all that the entirety of “Anjelitu” is produced by Aesop Rock, an artist with an even longer tenure in hip-hop music whose entire career can be summed up by 'I do what the fuck I want and people just happen to like it.” " You know what happens when people make music only to please themselves though? More often than not they make damn good music." I'll second that. Give Anjelitu a spin and I think you'll agree.
Also check out: "Lice Team Baby"
18. Rural Internet - "I am not brave"
Album: escape room
So......there's no way you will agree, but in my opinion we saved the absolute best for last. Rural Internet is the act I was most excited about this year. They actually released two LPs this year with Breaking Up in February followed up by escape room in September. I spent two full weekends in November listening to Breaking Up & escape room over and over again trying to figure out which track I could share that captured what I though was great about the band, but at the same time didn't feature a million f-bombs since my niece and nephews listen to the Bash every year. A lot of the tracks met the first criterion, but none of them met the second! Believe it or not I think "I am not brave" is the cleanest track on both albums. Fantano at theneedledrop did a pretty positive review of Breaking Up, but google or youtube "rural internet escape room review" and you'll get a lot of reviews of rural internet providers and escape rooms, but not yet a single professional review. I can't beleive this album is the best thing I heard all year and no one else seems to have noticed it, so I guess you literally heard it here first. The Birthday Bash started as an attempt to share awesome tunes with friends who probably wouldn't hear them otherwise, so to do just that with the last track on the 20th version of this thing is really kind of poetic. Shut up. I'm not crying.
Here are some other albums that were in contention and deserving of recognition this year.
Julien Baker - Little Oblivions
Kid Kapichi - This Time Next Year
Yard Act - Dark Days
Shame - Drunk Tank Pink
Boundaries - Maidan
The Blue Stones - Hidden Gems
The Armed - Ultrapop
In The Pines - Interlude
Dinosaur Jr. - Sweep It Into Space
Psykhi - Youth
Pom Pom Squad - Death of a Cheerleader
Tamar Aphek - All Bets Are Off
Turnstile - Glow One
Ty Segall - Harmonizer
Black Midi - Cavalcade
Anchoress - The Art of Losing
Aesop Rock - Garbology
Mark Haldeman and Co. - Recklessly Optimistic
Solemn Brigham - South Sinner Street
For Those I Love - For Those I Love
Idles - Car Crash
Once again, happy holidays from Team Sisson! Have a great 2022!