Black Midi – Cavalcade (Rough Trade)
Black Midi’s 2019, debut record Schlagenheim was praised, deservedly, as one of the records of the year. The band had touched on something new and exciting: a blend of math and noise rock that mixed twitchy guitars with chaotic drums in a bold, genre-defining way. Seeing the band’s live show only reaffirmed to me that the group were creating something special.
After two years of high anticipation, the band have returned with their sophomore LP, Cavalcade. The first thing to notice here is that it is a different record. The band took some risks, pushing their sound into new bolder directions instead of relying on their original sound. While keeping elements of their frenetic noise rock sound, the band add elements of Black Page-era Frank Zappa. Many of the tracks feature more orchestral instrumentation and more complex arrangements.
The dynamic range of this record is much greater, too. The softer parts have more beautiful melodies, and the harder parts are wilder and noisier than ever. On Cavalcade, Black Midi prove, yet again, to be one of the most unique and creative groups operating today. This is a record you shouldn’t miss!
Cavalcade is out on Rough Trade.
Lou Barlow – Reason to Live (Joyful Noise Recordings)
The Dinosaur Jr. bassist and frontman of Folk Implosion and Sebadoh, Lou Barlow returns with his eleventh solo record, and one of his most introspective to date. Following this year’s Dinosaur Jr. release and 2019’s Sebadoh LP, Barlow seems to have hit the best stride of his career.
Reason to Live is one of Barlow’s most polished and well-rounded records to date. While many of his solo records have been mixed bags this LP finds a cohesive, lo-fi, folk sound that harks back to Barlow’s Folk Implosion days. Highlight tracks such as the opener “In My Arms” or “Over You” showcase Barlow’s abilities as a tender songwriter. Most definitely one of Barlow’s best solo releases.
Reason to Live is out on Joyful Noise Recordings.
UV-TV – Always Something (PaperCup Music)
After a cross-country relocation to New York City, the loss of a couple of band members, and gaining of a new one, UV-TV return for their third record in their finest form. Their revamped sound is reminiscent of an older more jangly version of punk. Think elements of Beat Happening meet The Breeders.
What sets them apart from their predecessors is the extremely consistent songwriting. Track after track proves that fact. Truly not a bad cut to be found. This is an upbeat record mixing jangly guitars, catchy riffs, and powerful vocals together. Speaking of vocals, singer Rose Vastola gives one of her best vocal performances here. There are moments of pure energy, melancholic punk, and irresistible fun all across this record.
Always Something is out on PaperCup Music.
Needles//Pins – Needles//Pins (Dirt Cult Records)
Needles//Pins are a Vancouver pop-punk trio that caught my attention with their 2017 release Goodnight, Tomorrow. It took four years, but they have finally returned with this LP, one of their best. None of their past releases had me floored, but this record finally connects all the pieces for me. It’s the catchiest most hook heavy set of tracks the band has ever released.
They are constantly energetic and thumping managing to be danceable and melancholic at the same time. The vocals are gruff and unhinged creating a gravelly howl that suits the slightly revamped sound the band brings to this record. Instrumentally this is one of the heaviest recordings the band has pulled off. Both the bass and drums are thick with distortion, while the guitars shimmer in contrast. Very excited to see this Vancouver staple evolve as a group and continue to create quality records.
Dwyer, Sawyer, Keplin, Dolas, Caulkins, Malone, Rodriguez, Boye, Soubiran, Myers-Ionita, Renteria – Moon Drenched (Castle Face Records)
One of Thee Oh Sees frontman’s many pandemic projects, this latest LP finds Dwyer teaming up with just about everyone from across the underground music scene in Los Angeles. Moon Drenched is certainly the most jam-heavy of all Dwyer solo efforts this year. He keys into Krautrock influences like CAN, Neu, and Ammon Dull II to create spacy and repetitive grooves that mix psychedelia with punk style guitars in a way only Dwyer can pull off.
There are influences of free jazz, a dash of Sun Ra or Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis. This record has unique instrumentation including Ben Boye’s electric keys which add the final element of cacophonous noise to the record. It’s has been a pleasure to listen to Dwyer’s many projects this year, from Thee Oh Sees to Damaged Bug to his free jazz ensemble Bent Arcana, but this record will always remain of one of my favorites of this year.
Moon Drenched is out on Castle Face Records.
Cover image by Rachel Enneking