Wednesday 30 December 2020

2020: 20 songs by 20 new acts

What a year! Generally, sure, but for music 2020’s been quite a vintage. What have we learned? Well, San Francisco is setting the scene, but ignore Gothenburg, France, Australia and all points in between at your peril.

A list without Star Feminine Band, deathcrash and Sally Anne Morgan is evidence that this overview doesn’t have all the hits, but suggests that there’s so many new sounds on offer to widen our musical imaginations.

Very few 7” singles this year - the vinyl revival for new releases is about limited albums on heavy splattered vinyl. Luckily, my OnlyFans account is quite lucrative but for those without money-spinning sidelines, bandcamp remains the place to go.

No predictions for 2021, although maybe Slumberland will open their chequebook, sign every Bay Area band and become a billion dollar media conglomerate. Even more excitingly, periods of economic stagnation and social inertia ignite the most combustible music scenes. So until rebellious adolescents react defiantly, this is what some of 2020 sounded like.

Friday 11 December 2020

Typical Girls

In which Gothenburg trolls San Francisco by taking a shot at the 2020 pop board and scoring a bullseye.

If 2019's most exciting new music was coming from Gothenburg - avant-garde electronic ambience, freak-folk, hijacking Felt's guitars that sound like pins popping in your head - then 2020 has been ruled by San Francisco's jangle, DIY pop and sunny psych.

So members of various Gothenburg bands have formed Typical Girls and released an ep that sounds like it could have been recorded and released in San Francisco. This is just so much fun. They even cover The Troggs' With A Girl Like You and make it sound a bit like Massachusetts by The Bee Gees.

Final score: Gothenburg 10, San Francisco 10. So long as both cities keep producing records this good, there'll be no favourites, just time for celebration.

Wednesday 4 November 2020

Lunchbox - After School Special

This is just pop music. Sure, the time might be right for protest songs, for bands to confront social problems rather than personal issues. But one of pop music's main functions is as distraction from the everyday, as reminders of a better world, of hope and of personal celebration. Lunchbox make pop songs - really good pop songs - and they're a very welcome distraction.

After School Special is a record where it never rains in southern California. It's an immediate sugar rush like The Archies. It's got dancefloor snap like The Go! Team. It's full of punchy horns and jangly guitars like The Housemartins.

Lunchbox break absolutely no new ground here. That's the whole point. There's no great profundity - it's just pop music with all the attendant colour, glamour and magic. It's enormous fun. And sometimes that's what we need.

Tuesday 3 November 2020

deathcrash ‎– People thought my windows were stars

deathcrash's eternal songs sound like they've been buried for thousands of years and uncovered in an ancient rite, like wholly intact extinct animals revealed in Siberia's melting permafrost, and given an afterlife on vinyl.

Where last year's Slumber single was granted its powers by Arab Strap's Girls Of Summer, this latest record was brought to life by studying Slint's Spiderland. One side of the 12" ep is songs for m, i-iv (deathcrash aren't big on capital letters), a post-rock suite in four parts, each roughly lasting a light year, taking as long as it does for new galaxies to emerge.

Black Country, New Road are - rightly - getting a lot of attention, but they're going to have to share the post-rock limelight with deathcrash who are quietly excellent. And don't have a saxophone player or threaten free-jazz improv.

Friday 16 October 2020

Wicketkeeper - Shonk

Archers of Loaf were peddling a single on Record Store Day this year. Good stuff, but £15 for one new original song was too rich for my blood. Your entertainment pound gets much more value for money from Wicketkeeper’s album, Shonk, which trades in similarly gritty and tense noise.

Perhaps most obviously,Wicketkeeper’s kindred spirits are Built To Spill. That early 90s underground sound that wasn’t grunge, but knew where it was coming from, like Edsel Auctioneer and first album Teenage Fanclub in the UK. Spin’s screaming guitars are a definite nod to Dinosaur Jr, and the guitar avalanche and sledgehammer bass of The Side come, brilliantly, from Husker Du’s copybook.

Sure, Shonk isn’t overly adventurous, but their controlled chaos is dynamic, consistently forceful and rhythmically interesting enough to file under ‘excellent’ and ‘catch this band live as soon as the pandemic madness ends’.

Wednesday 2 September 2020

The Umbrellas - Maritime

It was always pretty easy to give C86 an identity in the 21st century because it had never had one before. C86 was the name of a compilation tape, a snapshot of a country’s underground guitar scene one season, not a shared sonic ideal. As one of the tape’s contributors, David Westlake, said, it was “a scene centred on a number of disparate bands”.

A few of those disparate bands, particularly Jim Beattie’s Primal Scream and the Razorcuts, sounded like they only bought records made by American bands from 1966 to 1968. Which is where The Umbrellas come in.

So if C86 means superior jangle, Roger McGuinn guitars and actually now you mention it pretty high production standards, then that’s what The Umbrellas are. They’re from San Francisco, a city currently punching above its weight with a ton of great bands - sort of similar, but disparate.

Perhaps historians will give 2020’s San Francisco scene a name. More likely, contemporary popkids will delight in The Umbrellas’ simultaneous discharge of jangle and harmony. And when they release an album on Slumberland next year, maybe people will draw a comparison to when Creation heard Razorcuts’ I Heard You The First Time ep on Flying Nun and signed them to record an album.

Thursday 13 August 2020


Galore play raggedy guitars to the best of their ability, panache over perfection, all raw minimalism like Beat Happening and stumbling like early Pastels with Veronica Falls romantic drama. Most obviously - most wonderfully - they sound like Rose Melberg on K, by which I mean Tiger Trap if they'd doubled the recording budget to $10 to include a producer.

It feels like there's something really special going on in San Francisco. The Umbrellas, Tony Molina, The Reds, Pinks and Purples, the Paisley Shirt roster. So Melbourne's finally got a rival. Maybe Galore know the score, which is why they got Mikey Young in to master the album.

Friday 24 July 2020

Romero - Honey

Wow! If we’re doing singles of the year, then tear up the ballot papers, cancel the rest of 2020 and hand Romero the gong for Honey. And b-side of the year for Neapolitan.

Romero are from Melbourne but share musical DNA with two of the great one-hit wonders of the past 5 years, both Sydney bands with an art rock edge. There’s the wiry noise and breakneck pace of Point Being’s Degustation, and the angular, full Fall fury of Display Homes’s Climate Change.

Perhaps most obviously, though, Romero trade in nagging, intense verse hook melodies like The Strokes once did so irresistibly. They’re the first Australian act who look like they can go global without any nods to dolewave (they’ve got nothing in common with Courtney Barnett or Rolling Blackouts). Honestly? I’d be happy if they make more records. And if the Display Homes album, originally scheduled for January 2019, comes out.

Hat tip to Glaswegian garage rock love god Brogues for alerting me to this modern classic.

Sunday 5 July 2020

The Altons - When You Go (That's When You'll Know)

Well, this is a song that knows how to announce itself: a breathless r&b groove that slips into intense southern soul.

Excellent though that is, I’m here for the b-side, Over and Over: soul so devotional, dramatic and tragic it’s a wonder the band didn’t sign a suicide pact before the tape rolled.

It’s the pop-soul ballad done with old-fashioned simplicity that aches with elegance and ardour, and will never go out of fashion.

Penrose is Daptone’s new subsidiary and The Altons are one of 5 acts with new 7”s kicking off the label.

Next to The Altons, the very best is Jason Joshua’s Language of Love. Joshua released possibly my favourite soul single of the last two years, Rose Gold, but his album didn’t quite cut it. He’s back on the top of his game now.

Thee Sinseers debuted on Colemine last year, but they left me cold. I’m all over Seems Like, though, their new deep soul pleading 45 on Penrose. Keep an eye on this label.

Thursday 18 June 2020

The Reds, Pinks & Purples - I Should Have Helped You

This 4-track 7” is a sort of greatest hits from The Reds, Pinks & Purples’ wonderfully prolific digital outpouring of Fisher-Price psychedelia by way of TVPs Mummy Your Not Watching Me and kitchen-sink romantic desolation by way of The Field Mice, perhaps most closely If You Need Someone.

Pressing these songs on vinyl is a statement that they’re worth preserving after enjoying them. The mighty I Dischi Del Barone label has created a lovely artefact - thick card sleeve, full colour postcard image, hand-stamped labels - because these things matter.

And because when you return to this record in 5 or 10 or 15 years’ time, having played it to death first time around, you get to enjoy its majesty anew in all its glory.

Or, you know, just go to their bandcamp and buy some songs. You can’t go wrong with any of them.

Tuesday 16 June 2020

Pash - Demonstration

Shoplifting is one of the year’s best pop songs - simple, sugary, addictive. A sustained haze of slo-mo guitar fuzz, naggingly ragged biss and instant pop gratification, kind of like My Bloody Valentine before they went supernova or the best of those bands with girls in their name, say Dum Dum Girls. Or the Shop Assistants, who all those bands with girls in their name wanted to be. It’s that good.

Double Date, Pash’s other song, isn’t as good as Shoplifting because very few songs are (although its intense muffled rumblings remind me a little of McCarthy's classic Frans Hals), but it still hints at great things to come. Keep an eye on this band. They’re already pretty special.

There's a tape of Demonstration (fill in your own Dolly Mixture reference) or buy the download.

Thursday 28 May 2020


Melancholy hauntology, like Broadcast and the Focus Group’s Witch Cults or a subdued Boards of Canada. The Spiral was recorded for a video installation in Copenhagen last year but it could have been recorded to soundtrack a 4AD fan slowly drowning.

Loopsel is Elin Engström from Monokultur and Skiftande Enhete, and this is closer to Monokultur’s motorik dub meets early 80s electronic ambience, only it’s less chilled out and more eerily chilled to the bone.

Better still is the 4-track 7”, the first release on Elin and JJ Ulius’s new label Mammas Mysteriska Jukebox, a field recording covered in analogue cobwebs, innocence and creepy organs. Both records are beautifully packaged and will change hands for a small fortune in the future.

Saturday 16 May 2020

The Great Divides - Face The World, Again

There’s a side to the Australian underground that gets overlooked: the sense of longing magnified by distance. It’s what happens when the sound of the suburbs is amplified by being nowhere near anything.

It’s the tenets of indie music swelled to bursting, imagining the only way love will ever find you is by washing up in a message in a bottle. But you’re nearer to the desert than the ocean.

It’s why, recently, we’ve had Interstate Forever by Dick Diver, Nullarboor by Lower Plenty and Mainland by Foxy Morons.

And it’s why nature is closer to the Australian songwriter’s spirit. The Great Divides “hear the sound of galahs in the morning”. This feeling never leaves some Australian musicians. Like Grant McLennan, writing Bye Bye Pride in London:

A white moon appears
Like a hole in the sky
The mangroves go quiet

Or David McComb, whose Wide Open Road is a metaphor for the isolation of his now empty bed. The Great Divide’s Let Them In plays a similar musical trick to The Triffids by bending American country rock into Australia’s brutal tropical heat with cavernous resonance.

Mainly, though, The Great Divides play jangly indiepop with strong, playful basslines like Jeanines or The Lucksmiths (you know, their name might be a play on the Luckies song The Great Dividing Range, or riffing on Australian geography and loneliness). Whichever way you look at it, this is a really strong debut and The Great Divides are a band to watch.

Friday 15 May 2020


Angel’s Gear is a swirl of organs and a mess of guitars like when Rocketship stamp their feet on the pedals and set the fx variously to ‘fuzzy’, ‘dreamlike’ and ‘stratospheric’.

Dummy clearly share an aesthetic - and a record collection - with Stereolab: motorik beats, quicksilver keyboards, guitar hypnosis, ultra-styled minimalism.

Some bands have brilliantly taken bits of that aesthetic in recent years - let’s hear it one more time for Le SuperHomard, The Prophet Hens, Ulrika Spacek, Whyte Horses, Small Reactions - but Dummy remind you that Stereolab haven’t made a record in a decade and not one as good as this for longer.

You know the drill, you’ve heard it before, but you haven’t heard it done this well in years.

Friday 17 April 2020

More Magic, More Magic - Kevin Hairs

Or more drugs for the ears for the lonely with holes in their hearts. Tangled, tune-laden guitars (think The Verlaines without Graeme Downes’ music PhD) that sound like they recorded in a tin shed while the rain hammered down.

Trebly, adenoidal noise like the Real Numbers’ recent hits, short, sharp and punchy like Buzzcocks (check that guitar solo on Subdued at the VCU) and - you know what’s coming - Television Personalities for crippled emotional jangle.

Levity or maybe self-awareness or perhaps a depressive fog lifts in The Day I Became A Dick. These songs break no new ground. They don’t try to. That’s sort of the point. You’ll get them right away. It’s pop music. And that’s what matters.

Sunday 5 April 2020


Guided By Voices have a 25th anniversary edition of Alien Lanes coming out. There is of course no point to this other than record company profit margins.

Alien Lanes opens with the immortal lyric: “The new drunk drivers have hoisted the flag.” It was a triumphant line celebrating the new. So forgive me but I’m far more excited about a new band hoisting the flag for GBV’s ‘4 Ps’ - pop, punk, prog, psych - than I am about a reissue.

The irresponsible reprobates driving the tour van into uncharted terrain this week are Portabella, brothers from South Carolina, who have apparently “been making music in some form for the last 20 years with a rotating cast of friends popping in”. Sounds like code for sniffing glue in their mum’s garage while failing to find full-time employment.

And their 15 songs sound like a lot of happy accidents, short, sharp songs, blurring genre lines, no compromise, frantically manic. They brilliantly show ingenuity, perseverance and extreme individualism.They have no restraints. Or anniversary reissue plans.

Thursday 2 April 2020

Bond themes by Hacia Dos Veranos and Red Red Eyes

Red Red Eyes specialise in a very English electronic vision - think Delia Derbyshire’s enigmatic precision, Broadcast’s Tears In The Typing Pool, Kraftwerk in Paddington Bear duffel coats.

They’ve taken The Pretenders’ Where Has Everybody Gone? and created a paranoid trip through the suburbs where memories are locked in boxes, bodies buried under the floorboards and fairies seen at the end of the garden.

Hacia Dos Veranos make sense of the anomalous, combining as they do the fury of Mogwai’s post-rock with the delicate classicism of the Durutti Column and Argentine rhythmic flair.

We Have All The Time In The Word finds them taking a melancholic approach to understand that sadness is not a disorder but the natural state. This is the first time they’ve sung on a track. They remain one of my favourite bands.

The WIAIWYA label has been releasing covers of Bond themes for 5 years. These new offerings represent my favourites so far. Label boss John Jervis wasn’t a young man when he started this project. Had he been, his obsession with the number 7 and James Bond would certainly have seen him committed to sessions with a counsellor so he could talk through his feelings with hand puppets. We are, however, fortunate to have these eccentric and essential releases right now.

Sunday 29 March 2020

Big Baby - Fizzy Cola

When I listen to superior pop music like this Big Baby tape, I remember Game Theory’s Scott Miller saying: “There's nothing really impressive about any mystique that I have. I'm's just pop. And that's kind of hard to sell sometimes."

What would make Big Baby’s songs - and they’re really very good, you know - sell? If Pretty in Pink 2 gets made, then the power pop and fragility of String Of Pearls beats any fist pumpin' soft rock to pull the emotional levers.

Any of those Netflix dramas about love and self loathing and teenage dreams - all improved by a song off Fizzy Cola. Selling pop music to me is easy - I stockpile it whatever the climate - but I feel certain that with exposure and a bit of luck these immediate songs would win many new fans no bother.

Saturday 28 March 2020

Beach Bunny - Honeymoon

Name a song by Snail Mail? Thinning, right. Now name a song by Mothers. It Hurts Until It Doesn’t, right. What about Soccer Mommy? Nope, you got me there.

But what if any of those bands wrote nothing but hits? Well, you’d have Beach Bunny who keep the emo on the down-low, open the windows on their bedroom music and let Best Coast’s sunshine pop stream in.

Honeymoon elevates suburban boredom - heartbreak, restlessness and disaffection - to the state of celebration by matching it with instant hooks and fuzzy guitars. If you liked All Of Nothing by Remember Sports, Honeymoon will rock your socks off.

Biographical detail? They’re from Chicago. Honeymoon is their first album. There’s an ep Prom Queen. You need both of these records.

Tuesday 10 March 2020

Pop Crimes - Debuts

Goes is 2020’s first true classic pop song - guitars set to jangle, the big box marked ‘tune!’ opened and the foot slammed on the fx pedal. Seasons & Storms isn’t far behind if you’re looking for the second true classic pop song of the year. Then listen to The Sun. You’ll very quickly get the idea something special is starting to happen.

They sound like Ride when they got it right all those years ago, first album Pains of Being Pure At Heart, exlovers frenzied noise, and the addictive, biting snarl of the Boo Radleys on Everything’s Alright Forever.

No idea why they’ve either named themselves after a Roland S Howard album or think they’ve in fact committed crimes against pop. Neither of these things ring true. But these songs? This band? Time to get very excited.

Wednesday 4 March 2020

PGX - Naive

This is worth the entry price just for the pagan tribute to the titular Peter Gutteridge.

PGX aren’t the sound of Dunedin, or even Christchurch. Maybe they looked to Gutteridge’s words for inspiration on their first 4 songs: “I like certain sounds. Certain rhythms. I’m interested in drone music as well as melody.”

Their spoken word vocals put them in league with Black Country, New Road, developing repetitive rhythms and oblique tunes on songs like the excellent Chocolate Factory.

Lead track Mopeds tips more to the recent LA punk stylings of Daddy Issues and Shit Bitch, and I’d love to see them on a bill with Breakup Haircut.

That’s a lot of ways to go, right? Well, apparently they’re “not sure what sound they’re going for but are finding their way with distortion”. Whichever way they go - and I secretly hope Speedy Wunderground have opened their chequebook - PGX are a band to watch out for.

Friday 28 February 2020

Algara - Enamorados Del Control Total

Imagine The Fall holed up in a Soviet bloc crack den. They’ve shoved their last coins in the electricity meter and have just minutes to record 4 blistering songs. All the needles are on red. Someone might be holding a gun to their heads.

Fragmented, shattering, desperate, howling. I don’t know what they’re singing (they’re Spanish and I’m a monolingual dolt) but they sound like they’re pleading for their lives. Or they just got dumped. Love can be vicious and its wounds bloody.