MICHELLE: AFTER DINNER WE TALK DREAMS (Album)
It is hard to find something to dislike about “AFTER DINNER WE TALK DREAMS.” Coming from a six-person collective with four lead singers, the album feels like a group project with no slackers. The listener can transport themselves to a roundtable of vulnerability with their closest friends. Toxic relationships, inner confidence, self-isolation, sexual desires, and more are discussed with clever metaphors, soothing harmonies, and unforgettable instrumentals provided by Charlie Kilgore and Julian Kaufman.
MICHELLE hails from NYC and released their first album “HEATWAVE” in 2018 before ever meeting as a full group. The experimental nature of such an idea translated into the presentation. But their most recent release is what resonated with my style. It has more harmony, more cohesion, and catchier beats. The four leads are a great dynamic. Layla Ku, Emma Lee, Sofia D’Angelo, and Jamee Lockard have wonderful harmonies and powerful solos, the former best emphasized by the opening track, “MESS U MADE.” The song highlights empowerment from within and from comrades.
This track, along with other winners like “EXPIRATION DATE,” “SYNCOPATE,” “TALKING TO MYSELF,” and “HAZARDS,” coat the indie scene with fresh ideas and poetic vocals. If you love indie R&B and want to see what the future of the genre looks like, this album is a must. –Charlie Thomas, Online Content
Wednesday: Mowing the Leaves Instead of Piling ‘em Up (Album)
Wednesday’s sonic blend of country and shoegaze burst through my hazy summer morning in Milwaukee and introduced me to a new sound. The Asheville group released Mowing the Leaves Instead of Piling ‘em Up in March. A steel-lap and electric guitar start the album with a cresting wail that falls into a rising steel lap guitar line.
The group’s cover of “She’s Acting Single (I’m Drinking Doubles)” by Gary Stewart hummed in my ears like a swarm of energetic bumblebees. The song starts as an up-tempo cosmic country tune and soars to a chorus as thick and rich as molasses. Lead singer and guitarist Karly Hartzman uses country singing techniques such as vibratos and a twang on her eccentric genre-blending vocals.
This album ranges from country to indie covers. My favorite tracks in this album are the covers of Chris Bell’s “I am the Cosmos” and Drive-By Truckers’ “Women Without Whiskey,” a re-imagined alternative country song led by guitarist Jake Lenderman’s grounded vocals and jagged guitar. Each song shines with its unique, distorted glow. Originally by Greg Sage, “Sacrifice for Love” has grainy distortion and a hi-hat heavy drumbeat that give a modern touch to this heartfelt song. Xandy Chelmis’ steel lap guitar is the group’s sails, a winding guide through their soaring mass of sound. In a year of acclaimed releases, I often found myself returning to Wednesday’s album featuring the comforting cover of Gary Stewart’s lonely witticisms by a group putting a fresh take on beloved rock and country tunes.
The group ended the year with a single. The eight-minute powerhouse titled “Bull Believer” hints at a darker sound for their next album. Recently, Hartzman posted a Spotify playlist of covers they would choose for a subsequent cover album possible in the future. The list varies from the cosmic country group The Flying Burrito Brothers to indie rocker Ben Kweller. Some punk and heavy metal selections appear on the playlist too. With upcoming international concerts and festival appearances, this group is already on track for a stellar run next year. –Nick Layeux, Online Content
Beyond the Ghost: Sundown (Album)
Beyond the Ghost makes one of the best dark ambient and ambient electronic albums of 2022 with “Sundown.” A part of a series of albums about an apocalyptic war engulfing Europe, this album combines dark ambient melodies with electronic beats and noir jazz. In short, “Sundown” has it all.
Dramatic vocals in “Lives in Reverse” will lift you up to witness the continent ablaze. “No Way Out of This Maze” will cast you back down to escape the decrepit cities while its pulsing beat will goad you on. “Ghosts Marching Home” summons visions of what the world used to be, haunting you as you leave this cursed realm. The final song, “Obscuration,” is a fitting epilogue. The track sums up all the ominousness, dread, and anticipation that latches onto your mind in the album’s first minute and never lets go.
The album varies its melodies from melancholy to melodrama to horror as it tells its story. The album’s cover art and electronic beats make one usually think of cyberpunk when listening, but it can apply to other situations and themes just as much. Maybe you’re navigating a lonely desert, contemplating your existence. Maybe you’re wandering the cosmos in a comfy spaceship. It is an album you can listen to in good times and bad, being both therapeutic and inspiring. Dark ambient afficionados will greatly appreciate this album, but classical instruments and varying beats also invite newcomers to explore this obscure yet fascinating genre. –Jacob Siefke, Online Content
feeble little horse: Hayday (Album, Re-release)
One of the most notable developments taking place in American music scenes over the past year is the emergence of new, young, and exciting shoegaze bands. One of the best bands from this swell is Feeble Little Horse. Their album “Hayday” received a wider release through record label Saddle Creek in 2022.
Band members Lydia Slocum, Sebastian Kinsler, Jake Kelley, and Ryan Walchonski craft an excellent album showing the band’s personality. The album’s tone abides by the group’s ethos to create something fun and enjoyable, not worrying about whatever success comes from it. The songs interchange between somber, soul tearing rage, and quippy lighthearted fun. A song like “Termites” reflects the inner emotional turmoil that many of us feel. “Kennedys” represents the truth that there is always fun to be had in life.
This duality is mirrored in the album’s vibrant instrumentation. There are moments with mellow, staggering guitars which give an almost country sounding feel. Contrasting with this are the jangly swirling riffs, paired with blazing fuzzed out walls of sound. Overlayed vocals, and glitched out, digital distortion give off a cool overtone, prancing across a driving rhythm. Outtakes and recording samples interwoven within the songs further enhance the album’s character. The band’s personality shines through and becomes increasingly relatable. All of this contributes to what is my favorite release of the year. The short, 20-something minute album leaves the listener excited for what comes next. Give “Hayday” a listen, it’s worth it. –John Glab, Music and Online Content
Nick León: Xtasis (EP)
Miami’s Nick León shifted from working on Rosalía’s “MOTOMAMI” to an EP that stomped festivals all over the world: “Xtasis.” The title track was assisted by DJ Babatr, the genre defining Venezuelan with a unique raptor house touch. Released in July on TraTraTrax, “Xtasis” combines Latin tribal techno with a bassline/lead that resembles Robin S’ “Show Me Love.” With a series of carefully arranged snares that can only come from the master mind that is DJ Babatr, Xtasis brought ecstasy to countless festivals and night clubs. Pearson Sound’s stripped down yet equally energetic take on the track complements the exalted original perfectly. The infectious lead contains a white noise hit resembling a Venezuelan charrasca.
Side B of this EP highlights “Grito,” a homage to the now well-known guaracha that sonically screams away from what you would usually hear on a car audio system by elevating its sound design. Doctor Jeep’s hyperactive mix blends perreo with drum and amp. The bass gives an intense and uplifting shift to the “edgy guaracha” track.
Claimed the best of the year by many, Nick Leon’s “Xtasis” gives a glimpse of what 2023 may sound like. The Miami artist has influenced many, while paying rendition to a well-deserved DJ Babatr, who is nothing else than a living legend in Latin and Venezuelan electronic music. –Andres V. Mora Mata, Music
Jakey: ROMCOM (Album)
Jakey’s “ROMCOM” was initially announced in December of 2021, alongside the release of the lead single “Pine Barrens.” After a delay, the record finally released on November 18, 2022. Jakey has released a few songs that showed promise, but “ROMCOM” really is amazing, considering that Jakey wrote and produced the album alone.
Speaking of production, this album is special. The sampling is so great on this album, especially if you’re (and bear with me) 1. chronically online or 2. A fan of 90’s/00’s romcoms. Memes like the horrifying ADPi chant and the “I didn’t get no sleep cause of y’all” Vine are notable samples. The most common samples and references, though, come from romcoms like “Never Been Kissed” and “10 Things I Hate About You”.
Despite the numerous romcom samples, this album is anything but romantic, or funny. It is deeply emotional, personal, and vulnerable. The album is about a breakup, from the anger to the sadness. Lyrics about lying in bed, wishing you had them again, and taking Lexapro all lay on the sadness heavily. The themes are something that almost everyone that has gone through a breakup can relate to. You can almost imagine Jakey turning his post break-up sadness into producing this album. As someone who has been listening to Jakey’s music since high school, I was happy to finally hear this gem. If Jakey continues to produce like this, and refine his lyricism, he will quickly skyrocket to the top. –Mason Dunn, Music
ROSALÍA: MOTOMAMI+ (Album)
Despite being snubbed by the Grammys, ROSALÍA’s “MOTOMAMI” is truly one of the best, most versatile albums of the year. Ranging with eclectic musical influences like industrial production, minimalist pop, and processed vocals, “MOTOMAMI” is a bold, futuristic and feminist take on Spanish music.
The record dabbles in everything from bachata, salsa, hip-hop, flamenco, electropop, and reggaeton. Everything that ROSALÍA touches on this album turns to gold. Standout tracks include the avant-jazz and industrial reggaeton of “SAOKO,” and the beautiful balladry of “COMO UN G.” Additionally, “DIABLO” somehow manages to expand her already immaculate vocal range with the use of various vocal effects.
Despite the standard edition of “MOTOMAMI” being near perfect, ROSALÍA manages to further improve upon the album on the deluxe edition, “MOTOMAMI+.” The deluxe adds an even more energetic version of “CANDY” with rising Latin star Chencho Corleone, and a fantastic live rendition of “LA FAMA.” Plus, a bouncy Caribbean reggaeton bonus track, “DESPECHÁ.” All additions enhance and expand upon the original’s musical vision.
Even though the production on this album is impeccable, the greatest feat is how ROSALÍA’s spectacular vocal performances stand out. This should not be taken for granted; many pop stars would be vocally “drowned out” by this level of production. While this album was not deemed worthy of a Grammy nomination, “MOTOMAMI+” has established ROSALÍA as one of the most versatile and exciting new voices in music. –Maurice Crawford, Music
Soul Glo: Diaspora Problems (Album)
Recorded in a warehouse, Soul Glo’s latest 12 track sucker punch album embodies the American diaspora in a passionate blend of hardcore and rap. Vocalist Pierce Jordan delivers lines regarding politics, anxiety, depression, and isolation in wicked fast scream poetry.
Jordan feels entirely genuine with a deep sense of self awareness underlined by a frustration that fuels the entire album. Production features tightly wound percussion, abrasive guitar, and gritty bass lines. The instrumentals stand out yet blend together into a wall of hardcore noise that flows and integrates within the vocals.
The album features very subtle, yet fascinating blends of different instrumentals and production for the hardcore genre. Horn features brighten the tone without losing the power, entirely unconventional but wholly welcomed when combined with Jordan’s piercing vocals. Various electronic elements add blips and quirks making each track feel fresh and unique. It feels so energetic and passionately experimental.
Genuine, devastating, and abrasive all around, Soul Glo released a standout album about the experience of growing up removed from your ancestry in a country that does not represent you. Expressing those experiences and frustrations into an incredible rap/punk/hardcore/whatever! album, the result is a standout release from the year and an exciting addition to hardcore. –Elizabeth Pauly, Music
The Mountain Goats: Bleed Out (Album)
The Mountain Goats are dead! Long live the Mountain Goats! This was one of my first impressions after finishing “Bleed Out”, the twenty-first studio album by singer-songwriter John Darnielle and bandmates Peter Hughes (bass), Jon Wurster (drums), and Matt Douglas (every other instrument imaginable…seriously, name one).
The album’s more rock-focused electric guitars eschew the traditional acoustic accompaniment of the Mountain Goats classics like 2002’s “All Hail West Texas.” The record explores themes any fan of the band will find familiar (interpersonal violence, cyclical revenge, and disillusioned hero worship). However, a new meta-narrative may leave some on the back-foot: schlocky 80s action movies.
Even though Darnielle’s seemingly put down the acoustic guitar and Panasonic (for now!), he’s still subverting expectations left and right. I think any fan of the Mountain Goats can find a song to love in “Bleed Out”, but many won’t share my opinions. So keep on the lookout! Next year might bring a jazz-swing album about lonely, toxic people. Or maybe a gospel concept album about futuristic robots. Whatever they get to work on, they’ll still reign strong in the hearts of their fans. Long live the Mountain Goats! –Case Fenner, News Director
See below for a playlist of music featured in this article.