Among the many few upsides in 2020 was that Phoenix musicians, undistracted by reside performances, used all that additional free time to increase their sounds and refine their inventive efforts. The top consequence was a group of native albums and standalone singles that captured the historic yr in sound and temper.
Listed below are only a few standout releases from the final 12 months — definitive proof that enduring music is aware of only a few bounds.
Sam Means, I’m Sorry
If anybody turned 2020’s many lemons into glowing lemonade, it was Sam Means. The musician and head of native merch firm Whats up Merch went from a deliberate reunion with The Format to releasing a wonderful five-song EP, I am Sorry. The undertaking clearly owes one thing to Means’ fundamental band, and there is a sort of earnestness and heart-on-sleeve mentality linking each sounds. However from there, Means spins in ’70s-style folk-rock (a la Stephen Stills) and ’90s various (assume Teenage Fanclub) for energetic jams on American politics and doomed love. If there are any downsides, the EP feels too transient; Means cuts proper to the guts of this second with breathtaking effectivity. It is the kind of undertaking that just about makes you glad 2020 went haywire as a result of from that chaos we received to expertise a massively proficient artist show his true strengths.
Playboy Manbaby, Debbie From Zumba
The extraordinarily on-line amongst us might have already been following Playboy Manbaby’s Robbie Pfeffer on TikTok, the place his UHF-like cable-access method to ironic humor is on full show. However Pfeffer and firm kicked off the yr with a brand new five-song EP, Debbie From Zumba, and it is higher than all of the teenaged followers on the planet. The band maintains just about one velocity throughout this 15-ish-minute affair: a manic, barely filthy type of machine-gun punk delivered with a massively sharp wit. It is a slight change of tempo from previous efforts (like 2018’s Boundless Vainness), however Playboy Manbaby retain the essence of their humor and tenacity to appease even essentially the most enduring of followers. It isn’t that this EP captures a second with all its angst and bile; it is extra that they’ve created one thing highly effective that provides individuals a language for all the pieces in 2020. Playboy Manbaby have at all times been good. That is simply one other reward for individuals who pay shut consideration.
No Lungs, What You Did not Wish to Occur Is Occurring Proper Now
It is spectacular that Chandler resident Austin Cooper (a.okay.a. No Lungs) managed to report a 10-track LP totally on his personal. It is doubly spectacular that Cooper created such a sonically wealthy album that synthesizes so many concepts and sounds. Cooper is deeply indebted to the Arizona rock scene, and he readily blends sludgy steel, jangly alt-rock, a touch or two of punk, shimmery indie rock, and a few extra-sharp post-punk. The top result’s a report that is by no means slowed down by its influences and as a substitute depends on these components to make a sound that is as daring and ingenious as it’s massively accessible and comforting. Cooper can readily swap gears from scathing tunes about greed (“Our America”) to odes on his private shortcomings (“One Mounted Level”), and it is his boundless dedication that continues to be steadfast. This looks like a watershed second for Arizona’s indie rock scene.
Mega Ran and DJ DN3, AGES, Vol. 2
Between the countless wrestling references and classic nerd aesthetic, some individuals neglect what Mega Ran is actually able to on the mic. So, after becoming a member of forces with DJ DN3, the person born Raheem Jarbo confirmed off his expertise with the second quantity of his AGES undertaking. Mega Ran examines the whole lot of 2020 throughout these 10 songs, from the #MeToo motion (“Males Behaving Badly”) and the worth of inventive expression (“Magnificence in Creation”) to somewhat optimism for tomorrow (“H.O.P.E.”). Nevertheless it’s not simply his place to appease the soul or condemn nasty conduct; Mega Ran captures the essence of the second with boundless emotion and his trademark wordplay. It is a chronicle of a yr that emphasizes that all of us should pay attention to the great and the unhealthy if we’re to ever make it to 2021 and past. Toss in some actually robust manufacturing from DN3, which ebbs and flows with the MC’s verses, and this album proves Mega Ran is among the many state’s sharpest abilities.
Audrey Heartburn feat. Tour Information Saul, ‘WTF’
On Bandcamp, Audrey Heartburn labeled their new single “WTF” with tags like “glam,” “surf rock,” and “psychobilly.” And when you take heed to even a number of seconds of this music, chances are you’ll be inclined to consider these are correct qualifiers and never doable gags. This Tempe outfit has at all times skirted musical boundaries, and so they’ve excelled at taking the beating coronary heart of rock music and spinning in new concepts and energies to make an even bigger sound. However “WTF” is one other beast totally: Whether or not it is the sluggish, methodic tempo, the pained vocal stylings, the usage of some turn-of-the-century-sounding piano, or Tour Information Saul dropping spitfire bars, it is laborious to essentially determine what you are listening to. That thriller, although, is value making an attempt to crack.
Dylan Pratt, Fantasma
Dylan Pratt’s a younger man with extra expertise than people twice his age. He lived in Seattle for a time, gaining success with the band Moya. He is performed with some massive names, together with Rhett Miller and Neko Case. And for his 2015 album, Limbo, he labored with producer Thom Monahan (Vetiver, Fruit Bats). All of that dwelling and touring has made its method onto Pratt’s newest, the superb Fantasma. Whether or not he is channeling the wandering people of a Bob Dylan or the extra strong balladry of David Bazan, Pratt understands the artwork of songwriting as a mirrored image of his personal moods and adventures. Pratt makes use of people to create a sonic canvas the place he expertly journals his life with a vivid coronary heart and a transparent sense of precision. It is the kind of album you placed on to know your self and the world round you, and in that sense, Pratt turns into the perfect sort of proxy for listeners. Irrespective of the place his travels take him, Pratt is value following alongside.
Strega Beata, ‘Prayers of Consequence’
Sam An spent years exploring the realm of digital music as Lana Del Rabies. However even essentially the most hilarious of band names run their course, and An has re-launched her musical efforts below a brand new title, Strega Beata. This newest outfit, which debuted in early 2020, is supposed to increase to a “wider scope of soundscapes,” with a give attention to concepts like grief, historical mythology, and interactions between “the bodily surroundings and spirit world.” All of that has to this point resulted in a number of standalone singles, together with the beguiling “Prayers of Consequence.” This love baby of ambient, industrial, and darkwave has some connections to LDR, however An has taken her experimentation in a brand new route. Equally lush and comforting, harsh and menacing, it is greater than only a sonic science undertaking; it is a compelling synthesis of historical past, emotion, and psychic energies. At one level, An utters, “I’ve change into/all the pieces, all the pieces,” and you’ll’t assist however assume she’s completely proper.
It is Embarrassing, ‘Dry Warmth’
In September, Oakland-based label Coronary heart On Information launched This Will Not Finish Quietly, a compilation “devoted to combating voter suppression.” Along with serving to the trigger, the 17-track comp featured plenty of thrilling new punk acts, together with Gina Volpe, Teenage Bigfoot, and Unhappy Girlz Membership. Even Tempe’s personal It’s Embarrassing received in on the enjoyable, releasing the standout monitor “Dry Warmth.” This snarling little ditty asks individuals what they’re doing to counter the “subsequent right-wing ghoul who seizes energy after Trump.” (Should you’re this particular band, the reply is crafting killer punk tunes for the revolution.) It is a real banger even outdoors of its political context, as It is Embarrassing proceed to push themselves in making nice punk that does not a lot break down partitions as steamroll them into mud. Too unhealthy we could not vote for this trio as a substitute.
Kareem Ali, The 2020 Releases
Telling you to simply take heed to an artist’s total discography is, admittedly, an enormous copout. However within the case of Phoenix-based DJ/producer Kareem Ali, it is the one actual strategy to get a real understanding of simply how prolific he was throughout 2020. From a tough rely, Ali had one thing like 33 releases for 2020, every with various numbers of songs — greater than 100 songs total in a single yr. Ali’s work looks like a grasp class in producing, as he readily spins in all the pieces from funk and soul to EDM and home to craft large soundscapes rife with wealthy sentiments. Is all the pieces that Ali releases at all times a shimmery gem of sonic goodness? No, however that is not the purpose. As an alternative, he is seeking to present his improvement as an aural engineer by placing all the pieces out into the world. And based mostly on 2020 alone, he is on tempo for some actually massive issues.
The Black Moods, Sunshine
Mainstream rock ‘n’ roll, with all its braggadocio power and outsized swagger, appears somewhat misplaced in 2020. However do not inform that to Tempe’s personal The Black Moods, who launched simply such an unrelenting rock album with Sunshine. Beneath all of these huge energy chords, anthemic vocals, and massive, crunchy drums, although, exists one thing deeply human. The members of The Black Moods might contemplate themselves rockers, however they are not afraid to point out off each their technical prowess and cohesion because the tightest of rock trios. Whether or not they’re referencing one thing like early Gin Blossoms, or spinning in bits of blues and Delta rock, Black Moods make badass rock like deeply devoted craftsmen.
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