I considered a recap of the heinous year that was 2020, however I realize none of us need to be reminded of the state of our county or a laundry list of the attrocities we have all witnessed. Instead, as I begin to wind down activities at The Ash Gray Proclamation over the coming months I thought I focus on the artists that helped us through the past year and specifically the 100 songs that provided comfort and solace when we needed it most. You should expect our belated favorite albums of 2020 sooner than later. In a year that we had to settle for watching our favorite bands on our computers and T.V.’s instead of in our sorely missed local clubs, it remains crucially important to support their efforts. Most if not all of these tracks on this playlist were purchased on Bandcamp, usually on the sites no fee Friday’s where they continue to waive their standard fee which ultimately puts more money in the pockets of the bands, labels, and charities. I ask that if you find something you enjoy and I hope you find plenty, please seek them out on https://bandcamp.com/ and support them by purchasing their music. As always thank you for your support and readership.
When I started to compile this list and reflect on the releases and events that shaped my 2019 the year was coming to an end and I for one couldn’t have been happier about that. In full disclosure in the early stages of working on this piece I put a playlist together and named it 2019 – Go
Fuck Yourself. A bit low brow but a title that accurately surmises my sentiment for those 365 days that occupied 2019. In addition to some personal challenges I was faced with last year the world continued to deliver heartbreaking blows with the deaths of two of my all time favorite artists, David Berman and Daniel Johnston, respectively. But, as I was often reminded in 2019 there is power and catharsis in music and sometimes a great song can change your day and perspective in under 3 minutes, or less in some cases. 2019 was an exceptionally strong year for music and brought both new releases from long standing favorites, indie legends and exciting new acts that captured my attention and provided the soundtrack to a year that is gladly in the rearview. This list could have easily been expanded to 40 albums if not more, however these 20 records are the ones that I turned to the most, connected with, played loudly in the car, on long runs in the woods, and forced upon my friends and loved ones. Let’s try to see past the fact that It’s already February, better late than never I suppose.
20. Gruff Rhys – Pang! (Rough Trade)
Former Super Furry Animals leader, Gruff Rhys follows 2018’s Bablesberg with a magnificent album of pastoral chamber pop about the decaying state of the world sung entirely in Welsh with production assistance from South African electronic artist Muzi.
19 . The Black Watch – Magic Johnson (Atom Records)
The long running Los Angeles dream pop concern, The Black Watch issued yet another gem in a string of engaging, literate and infectious LP’s with Magic Johnson. Not even my east coast pro Celtics bias could deny the strength of this album and shimmering pop sounds within.
18. Sneeze – Fin (Midnight Warewolf / Tor Johnson Records)
Boston grunge punks, Sneeze first popped onto my radar in 2011 and I’ve followed along closely over the past 9 years as they’ve released a remarkably consistent string of releases. Fin follows 2016’s excellent Rot EP and finds the trio delivering there most varied and anthemic album to date.
17. Peyton Pinkerton – Ex Tomorrow (Darla)
The former New Radiant Storm King, Pernice Brother, and Silver Jew, Peyton Pinkerton returned this year with what has turned out to be my favorite of his solo offerings. Ex-Tomorrow is filled with intelligent and exquisite guitar driven pop songs. What more could you possibly need?
16. FCKR JR – I’m Sorry Mom and Dad (Born Yesterday Records)
Late last summer Ben Grigg (Geronimo!, Whelpwisher, Future Biff) unveiled the full length debut from his latest project, the fantastically named FCKR JR. A staggering blend of shoegaze, ethereal guitar lines, and considerable pop hooks. Slippercore is real!
15. Versus – Ex Voto (Ernest Jennings)
A very welcome return from a band I’ve admired since the early 90’s. Versus deliver this new set with finesse and refinement of a band that’s been at it for 3 decades but one that’s not satisfied to rely on their past accomplishments. Ex Voto is an infections and arresting LP that finds it’s creators sounding recharged and as vital as ever.
14. Horse Jumper of Love – So Divine (Run For Cover)
Boston’s slowcore concern HJOL made the move to Run For Cover Records for their 2nd LP and found the band pushing their sound into exciting new directions with a blissful marriage of beauty, sadness, and noise.
13. Diiv – Deceiver (Captured Tracks)
On Deciever Zachary Cole Smith leads Diiv through their most accomplished song cycle to date, while adding a new density and a fresh coat of grime to the shoegazers sonic pallet, providing new vibrant texture to dark tales of addiction and recovery.
12. Christian Fitness – You Are The Ambulance (Self-Released) Cardiff’s Andrew “Falco” Falkous delivered his sixth LP, under the moniker of Christian Fitness with You Are The Ambulance and further solidified himself as formidable songwriter and grade A noisemaker. Flippant post-punk anthems filled with razor sharp wit from the Mclusky/Future Of The Left fronter.
11. The Astounds – Ancient Flying Ghosts (1262936 Records DK) A new record from Dean Wells (Capstan Shafts) is cause for celebration especially when said album is as good as Ancient Flying Ghosts. 10 songs in under 20 minutes for an euphoric lo-fi blast and oh so many hooks!
10. Possible Humans – Everybody Split (Trouble In Mind)
It took Melbourne’s Possible Humans 7 years to release their debut full length, Everybody Split. After self -releasing the album in Australia Everybody Split saw wider release this summer courtesy of Trouble In Mind Records. Recalling the blissful jangle of early REM, The Clean, and The Feelies while distilling those influences into a unique and engaging debut LP.
9. J. Robbins – Un-Becoming (Dischord)
30 years deep into a remarkable career with bands like Jawbox, Goverment Issue, and Burning Airlines J. Robbins issued his first solo LP ripe with thoughtful and honest post-hardcore anthems.
8. Brat Curse – Brat Curse (Anyway Records)
Columbus OH’ Brat Curse specialize in fuzzed drenched power pop and on their 2nd LP they deliver 12 infectious ear worms that seem to stick with me for days. This superb collection of concise and exhilarating mid-fi indie rock unveils a new favorite each and every visit.
7. Smug Brothers – Serve A Thirsty Moon(Self Released)
Smug Brothers’ creative force, Kyle Melton set up a home studio earlier this year and proceeded to record three new albums. Attic Harvest arrived in February then All Blur Spark was delivered in July, both of which are absolute gems and worthy of your attention. However, the material on Serve A Thirsty Moon seems like a step forward. A bit more anthemic, focused and affecting. This album has been in constant rotations since it’s November release.
6. Honey Radar – Ruby Puff of Dust (What’s Your Rapture?)
Philadelphia’s Jason Henn and friends delivered yet another satisfying and timeless album of hook heavy lo-fi pop with Ruby Puff of Dust. The latest offering sounds like it could’ve been easily released at any point in the last 30 years but as luck would have it came to us this year with quantum sized hooks and sweet melodies under a thick layer of tape hiss and buzzing guitars.
5. Pernice Brothers – Spread The Feeling (Ashmont Records)
September brought the 1st new album from Pernice Brothers in nearly a decade with the 11-track, Spread The Feeling. The album features appearances from past Pernice Brothers alum as well as a stunning collaboration with Neko Case, but what keep me reaching for this album over and over is an exceptional song cycle from Joe Pernice, chock full of beautiful lyricism and striking melodies.
4. Pile – Green and Gray (Exploding In Sound)
For the past 12 years Boston’s Pile have delivered 7 LP’s of arresting post-punk while somehow upping the anti with each release. Green and Gray follows 2017 excellent A Hairshirt of Purpose and takes yet another step forward in the evolution of the band’s sonic capabilities. Rick Maguire delivers a stunning song cycle throughout Green and Grey while leading Pile through a well-balanced album filled with jagged noise and striking melodies.
3. Hallelujah The Hills – I Am You (Self-Released)
The three years it took for Hallelujah The Hills to follow up 2016’s A Band Is Something To Figure Out was in fact well worth the wait. Who knew while Ryan Walsh was promoting his exemplary first novel, Astral Weeks: A Secret History Of 1968 he was also hard at work along with his band mates crafting Hallelujah The Hill’s flawless new LP. I Am You contains quantum sized hooks, accomplished and varied instrumentation, as well as Walsh’s greatest lyrical contributions to date. A masterful LP from start to finish.
2. Guided By Voices – Zeppelin Over China / Warp and Woof / Sweating The Plague (GBV Inc.)
2019 was the year a perennial favorite delivered 3 exquisite LP’s in a 12 month span and provided the arduous task of picking a favorite. Zeppelin Over China is a 32 song monster and arguably the crowing achievement from Robert Pollard’s most recent and technically proficient line up Guided By Voices. May I refer you to Your Lights Are Out? A personal favorite from an album choc full of life affirming rock songs.
Guided By Voices – Warp and Woof (GBV Inc.)
Compiling tracks released on 4 EP released between 2018-2019, Acid Rock, Umlaut Over The Ozone, 100 Doug’s, and Wine Cork Stonhenge. If you think it’s just another in the long line of Robert Pollard releases or an odds and sods collection you’d be dead wrong. Warp and Woof is a superb LP and one of Guided By Voices most varied and infectious albums in recent memory.
Guided By Voices – Sweating The Plague (GBV Inc.)
As I mentioned in a recent review Sweating The Plague contains some instant ear worms, but the tracks that really satisfy are the songs that reveal their greatness and subtle complexities over repeated listens. All three of the albums Guided By Voices released this year offered an overabundance of riches and each further proves Bob and this exemplary line up of musicians continue their hot streak but on Sweating The Plague, GBV goes all in on a menacing and gargantuan rock record that gets better with every visit.
1. Purple Mountains – Purple Mountains (Drag City)
The fist time I heard this album it struck me to my core. Delivered in mid-July, Purple Mountains marked the return of David Berman after walking away from Silver Jews and music entirely in 2011. After David’s tragic suicide in August it took me a lot of time to return to this devastating and beautiful record. These 10 songs are his final artistic statement and in the aftermath of his death they hold even more weight and insight into David’s struggles. It’s remarkable that he was able to pull this off while in the grasps of such debilitating demons. Purple Mountains is outright masterpiece and I don’t throw that M word carelessly or often. In this case it’s completely warranted, but I like many others would give it back in second to change the course of his tragic end. DCB Forever and ever.
Honorable Mention: Pavlov’s Puss – Comfort Food | Halfsour – Sticky | Titus Andronicus – An Obelisk | The Gotobeds – Debt Begins at 30 | Kal Marks – Let The Shit House Burn Down Starflyer 59 – Young In My Head |Pedro The Lion – Phoenix | Mike Krol – Power Chords | Lud – Yellow House Trigger Cut – Buster | David Kilgour & The Heavy Eights – Bobbie’s a Girl | Uranium Club – The Cosmo Cleaners
This Sunday we proudly present Rhode Island Freak-Out, a full day of music, vendors, food, and refreshment at Pawtucket’s News Cafe & Parking Lot. At first our intent was to attempt a full day show that would incorporate some of our favorite acts from Providence, Boston, and beyond. We weren’t sure how or if it would actually come together. However, once we started to reach out to these acts, we were taken back by how accepting and enthusiastic they all were of the concept of the little pipe dream we’ve coined, Rhode Island Freak-Out. Motivated by some of our favorite Live music experiences and the desire to bring together as many musicians, artist and music obsessives in one place at the close of summer. With all proceeds from this event going to our performers this event and the ones that follow (we hope) will be a way to celebrate and support the local music community. Below you will find a brief guide to this years event, performers, and a playlist to get you prepped for what is sure to be a special day. We look forward to seeing friends, old, new, and yet to be made. Respect the space and most importantly each other.
1:30 Rye Pines
Bursting out the Allston basements earlier this decade, Rye Pines have evolved into a sinister and howling garage punk trio. The bands Live sets are something to behold, consisting of equal parts sweat, grime, and surf punk furry. Arrive early and bear witness.
2:15 Beverly Tender
The Providence by way of North Carolina duo of Molly Hastings and Tristian Brooks occupy a space filled with delicate atmospherics, jagged distortion, coupled with earnest and wistful vocals. I’ve been eager to book a show with Beverly Tender since discovering their debut EP and last years release of their remarkable full length, What Have You Done To My Water? only heightened my appreciation.
3:00 No Hope/No Harm
Boston’s 90’s emo leaning supergroup that features members of The Good North, The Shelia Divine, Field Effect, and Sebio. No Hope/No Harm appeared seemingly out of nowhere and quickly released two impressive singles and earlier this year the band issued, the Swimming In The Charles EP frontman which finds fronter, Luke O’Neil leading the charge on 6 infectious guitar pop anthems.
You may know Micheal Falcone as the drummer of Speedy Ortiz, but over the past decade he has been writing and recording under the moniker of Hellrazor. This is no side project, Hellrazor are a lo-fi fuzz punk trio delivering concise, varied, and catchy as fuck pop songs.
I originally discovered Halfsour a handful of years ago via debut cassette and followed along through bands evolution. The one constant has always been Halfsour write and record terrific and energetic guitar pop with nods to 90’s indie touchstones while delivering something wholly unique.
Providence’s dark pop super-outfit fronted by writer, performer, and 2017 FEMS Poetry Slam winner, Muggs Fogerty. With limited music on-line at this point when Lookers play out it’s an event to behold.
6:00 14 Foot 1
Providence’s venerable spastic math outfit were on a the short list for this event from day one. Sonic spender via dual guitar wailing and propulsive percussion awaits.
14 Foot 1 on Bandcamp
6:45 Twin Foxes
Sunday will mark our third show this year with Providence’s heavy indie set, Twin Foxes. So yeah you could say we like them. The band arrived on our radar back in 2014 and have managed to deliver terrific string of releases, most notably this years tremendous, Sleeping On The Attic Floor. Not to be missed.
7:30 Black Helicopter
Boston rock veterans and purveyors post-punk sludge, featuring members of Green Magnet School and Krudgel. After a stint on Thurston Mooore’s Ecstatic Peace! imprint the band has amassed an impressive discography most recently with Everything Forever (EP). Anthems for the downtrodden with big riffs and even bigger hooks.
The recording vehicle of Boston’s Kevin King, formally of Maura who offered his debut LP We Both Become The Sky, a collection earnest and captivating folk tinged introspection in 2016. Next month Kevin will team once again with Disposable America imprint for Saccherine’s sophomore release, Hollow Space. Perhaps he will treat us to some new tracks? Come and find out.
9:00 Major Stars
Boston’s venerable psych rock stalwarts made their Live debut at Terrastock in Providence way back in 1997, so it was a total no brainier to approach Wayne Rogers, Kate Village and co. to join us for our first installment of Rhode Island Freak-Out. For over two decades and multiple line-up changes Major Stars have consistently delivered their raucous, exceptionally adept, and singular sonic achievements.
9:45 Honey Radar
Honey Radar is the uber prolific and euphoric hook laden project of Jason Henn and the first band we asked to take part in this event so,we’re beyond thrilled that the PA lo-fi pop dynamos are taking the long drive down interstate 95. With elements of 60’s British invasion, psych pop and 90’s indie these songs feel oddly familiar and brand new all at once.
10:30 Kal Marks
We first Boston noise rock titans, Kal Marks earlier this decade at one their explosive Live shows and that’s all it took, we were all in. Led by vocalist/guitarist Carl Shane, Kal Marks explore darkness and personal hardship and offer a little bit of light through a unified concoction of crushing distortion, pummeling rhythms, and Shane cathartic howl.
///Sunday August 26th: Rhode Island Freak-Out at The News Cafe & Parking Lot///
12 PM ~ Doors 18+ $12 Event Details