Fix Yourself, Not the World
What’s remarkable about the Wombats‘ Fix Yourself is that very little has changed outside of the group’s engagement. The songs are catchy as ever (and, in the case of the dynamite single “This Car Drives By Itself”, perhaps one of the best they’ve ever penned), and few songs dip below mid-tempo. So what happened? the Wombats found new ways to love playing their music this time around. It’s so fun, it’s so winkingly subversive, and we for sure cannot survive another multi-year wait between releases. This album is a hell of a Fix.
Take “Everything I Love Is Going to Die”, for example. The themes are familiar (Murphy wants out of a conversation because he is riddled with thoughts of mortality and how it affects him), but nicking a Peter Hook-styled bassline feels fresh and is implemented well. “Icarus is my best friend,” notes Murphy during the chorus, which is an association that says more about the narrator than anything else. It’s an interesting trick that subverts the standard Wombats template just enough to make it dynamic. — Evan Sawdey
Show Me the Body
Trouble the Water
Musically, Show Me the Body’s style of hardcore is innovative, creating new dynamics in how they mix rap with heavy music. Considering how corny this mix of genres can be, it’s a risky move, yet they’ve managed to make it feel unprecedented. Now, Trouble the Water sees the group comfortable making music they love without conforming to specific genres. Mainstays of their music are still heard: Harlan Steed’s monstrous bass and synth tones, frantic yet danceable drum patterns from newcomer Jackie Jackieboy, and Julian Cashwan Pratt’s signature distorted banjo providing unique high-end textures unheard in hardcore punk. They are not opposed to practicing standard hardcore tropes, yet aim to propel hardcore to new heights. Most importantly, Show Me the Body’s music is livid and empowering, as confrontational and heartful as hardcore punk can be. — Andrew Spiess
In all likelihood, you’ve never heard the words “you need help” delivered with quite the combination of directness and reassurance as when Guerilla Toss frontwoman Kassie Carlson sings them at the outset of “Cannibal Capital”, the opening track on Famously Alive. The quirky art-rock outfit’s fifth proper full-length—and first for the iconic Sub Pop label—Famously Alive marks the first time that Carlson and her bandmates have made a deliberate effort to uplift the audience. But even when they weren’t trying, Guerilla Toss had already perfected the art of zapping listeners with intoxicating high-energy jolts that were hard to walk away from without feeling giddy. — Saby Reyes-Kulkarni
The Bobby Lees
The average song by rock revivalists, the Bobby Lees barely, only occasionally, breaks the two-minute mark. It’s part of the band’s charm, its immediacy. These songs also are packed with insane degrees of vitality, which lends them stature and volume that far outstrips their mild run-times. The band is experiencing an explosion of critical acclaim these days, garnering shout-outs from the likes of Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry, and Henry Rollins, and the result of all this newfound attention is a brand-spanking new LP, Bellevue.
The Bobby Lees have always rocked and rocked hard, and they continue to do so in Bellevue; that part of the formula (thankfully) remains unchanged. But what is also thrown into the mix is an alarmingly potent ambition and maturity that recordings like 2020’s Skin Suit, however brilliant at the time, lacked. Bellevue, as a result, is a defining moment for the quartet, its most scorching and essential recording to date, and a collection of songs that, yes, let’s boil it down, rock hard. — Justin Vellucci
The Heavy Heavy
Life and Life Only
(Mustard Custard Vinyl)
The strength of this starry debut from the Heavy Heavy lies in its refusal to hew to a single 1960s music style. Instead, Life and Life Only mashes up soul, psych, mod, and a tinge of eerie folk to create a blended sound that might be thrillingly at odds with today’s pop charts but would sound perfectly at home busting the rock conventions of half a century past. This is exuberant, well-crafted, sing-along music with zero pretensions. The Action forged the same path way back when, even if nobody appreciated them at the time; a shame most of humanity will never experience the Heavy Heavy either, even if we really should. — Marc Edelstein
Leave the Light On
Pillow Queens formed in 2016, and there’s a tightness and tangible confidence in their musicianship that’s much more noticeable on Leave the Light On than in previous recordings, as are the slick production values. Pairing again with producer Tommy McLaughlin, who was behind the boards for In Waiting, the enormous nature of the arranging and instrumentation is jaw-dropping. It’s rare for a record to sound this big and this powerful, but Pillow Queens make it seem effortless. Leave the Light On finds them incorporating additional sonic textures—including a subtle synthesizer drone during the intense and hypnotic “Delivered”. Pillow Queens experiment with guitar effects and tones, most noticeable in the opening moments of the album’s smoldering second track, “The Wedding Band”. — Kevin Krein
With the release of Skinty Fia, Ireland’s Fontaines D.C. deliver a brooding post-punk sensual feast with a distinctly Irish flavor where longing, alienation, and malice simmer just under the surface. Fontaines D.C.’s new offering isn’t just a literate, philosophical engagement with the trope of the stranger in a strange land. It’s also an expansive and compelling maturation of their sound. If the group’s debut, Dogrel put the emphasis on “punk” in post-punk, Skinty Fia pushes the “post”.
There is rhythmic darkness that pulsates throughout the album, reminiscent of the agonized genius of Joy Division. This is especially present on the title track, where Deego’s bass and Coll’s drums propel an ominous, hypnotic beat intermittently interrupted by industrial guitar riffs. Grian Chatten’s monotone delivery overlays this, delivering a vocal performance that belies the turbulence driving the song. Chatten’s vocals throughout the album carry an intensity that seldom needs to raise the volume. — Rick Quinn
Expert in a Dying Field
The Beths hoped their second record would build on the positive attention of their 2018 debut, Future Me Hates Me, but nothing was certain in 2020. Jump Rope Gazers received some acclaim, though, like other albums released in 2020, it was mostly buried under the weight of everything else happening in the world.
Soon after, singer-songwriter Liz Stokes began work on what would become their third album, Expert in a Dying Field. While the record finds the New Zealand band still offering their distinct take on power-pop, they’ve continued to push themselves sonically with their latest, striking the perfect balance between the introspection of Jump Rope Gazers and the high-octane buzz of Future Me Hates Me. More than anything, Expert‘s production, handled by guitarist Jonathan Pearce, is leaps and bounds beyond anything else in their catalog, featuring quaking walls of sound (“Silence Is Golden”) to legitimately anthemic stadium rock (“Best Left”). — Kevin Kearney