Ennio Morricone found his way onto the fast track pretty early. Within his first few years of working in film scoring, he orchestrated the music for Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1960 existential classic L’Avventura; the following year, he arranged and conducted the music for Vittorio De Sica’s The Last Judgment and orchestrated Dino Risi’s Il Sorpasso. It would have been easy for Morricone to settle down into a long career of writing for Italian art-house films. But with 1964’s A Fistful of Dollars, the immensely popular spaghetti western featuring a breakout performance by Clint Eastwood and a career-elevating turn by director Sergio Leone, Morricone set his sights west of Italy. He looked so far west, in fact, that before long, he was writing music not only for westerns but also for horror movies, comedies, thrillers, and more. Morricone established a trademark sound with the twangy guitars, whimsical whistles, and violent yawps of Leone’s spaghetti-western trilogy, which also included For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. In the ensuing decades, he would continually reinvent himself. The ’80s brought the warm strings and triumphant, romantic horns of The Untouchables as well as the delicate, sympathetic melodies of the gangster epic Once Upon a Time in America. His music for John Carpenter’s horror masterpiece The Thing turned cello ostinatos into harbingers of terror, while heartbeat bass refrains bolstered the film’s immaculately cold suspense. The Legend of 1900 (1998) saw the composer dipping into jazz and ultimately doubling down on his sentimental side, while The Hateful Eight combined the many sides of Morricone, folding in stressful motifs into a grand vision of the dark side of the American West.
Sometimes I wish I’d had a cooler childhood. Many of my friends have neat stories about discovering The Smiths at age 13 or getting drunk and listening to Springsteen (which I certainly do, but it’s for a different reason when you’re 30). My experiences were a little different. Sure, my dad used to play Electric Light Orchestra and Supertramp vinyls when we would clean the house and Paul Simon and B.B. King cassettes when we went on drives, which was awesome and formative, but most of my meaningful early experiences with music were with the classical music my grandparents and teachers would tell me about.A lot of my childhood was spent alone at the piano. After school, on weekends, when I would fake being sick so I could stay home alone with it, I revelled in the time I had with the instrument. I would play whatever I could get my hands on, as long as I liked it. My grandparents, who were very passionate about all kinds of music, would buy me CDs of famous works performed by illustrious pianists and conductors, and I would fall in love with certain sonatas or movements, sometimes buying the scores but usually printing them out from illegal sheet music sites in my high school library, daydreaming about them until I could go home and work on them. I loved Chopin’s nocturnes and Beethoven’s sonatas, Joplin’s rags and Ravel’s chamber music. I grew to love Serkin, Horowitz, Rubenstein, Bernstein, Goode, Abbado, Toscanini—so many great pianists and conductors.In addition to the piano I began playing saxophone when I was about 10. When I entered high school I decided to start taking lessons and I somehow made it into the studio of the St. Louis Symphony bass clarinet player James Meyer. Mr. Meyer taught me a tremendous amount about a whole range of cool things, such as zen meditation, martial arts defense moves, how to select and prepare reeds, and, most importantly, how to think about music. He exposed me to jazz, playing me my first real jazz record. It was Oliver Nelson’s 1961 Blues and the Abstract Truth, a hard bop masterpiece with unreal orchestration and elegant solos. I remember very clearly feeling like it was the dopest shit I’d ever heard. I bought the CD the following day at Borders. He also taught me about modern and postmodern music, from Debussy to John Adams. We played through everything we could.One summer Mr. Meyer was playing in the pit orchestra for a production of John Adams’ excellent 1987 opera Nixon in China. He showed me some of the sheet music and explained what post-minimalism was about. He said it was one of the hardest pieces he had ever played. I knew nothing about Adams or opera, but when I told my grandparents about it, they insisted that I have the opportunity to see it. My grandfather and I went to see Nixon in China a few weeks later—I found it exhilarating, new, and inspiring, but as a lifelong Puccini and Verdi fan, he did not like it very much at all. To this day I sing arias from that opera to myself when I am alone. Maybe it’s not as cool to some people as singing Springsteen, but I still think it’s pretty fuckin’ rad.
Captain Beefheart was a man, but also an idea, and to write a straightforward piece about him here seems antithetical to his essence. He had a mustache sometimes and other times he had a goatee; sometimes he wore a fedora and other times he wore a cowboy or top hat. Despite having no musical training, he played numerous instruments. Occasionally, he composed at the piano, which he did not know how to play. He was friends with Frank Zappa, who produced Trout Mask Replica. His music is indisputably its own strange amalgamation, but it was still as directly tied to the confusion of the ‘60s as any music ever was, fusing blues, beat poetry, jazz, rock ‘n roll, psychedelic, noise, and avant-garde. His voice was almost magical and he could shift between gravelly falsetto and rumbling baritone at the drop of a harmonica. To try to make sense of Captain Beefheart is pointless, and furthermore, it goes against his very being. Sure, he can be understood as a social phenomenon, but this playlist isn’t about that. It’s called “Captain Beefheart Insanity.” Just go with it.
The first American Football album presents an image on its cover that has long remained in my mind. This image, a photo of the side of a Midwest house on a cloudy night, is conjured up from my unconscious and displayed on the projection screen of my mind’s eye every time I hear Mike Kinsella’s voice. American Football sounds like that photo looks: inviting, mysterious, and decidedly more complex than the surface would lead one to believe. The past few years have seen a renaissance in American Football’s emo/math rock aesthetic, with numerous young indie bands taking up the torches of sincerity and despair, displaying their emotions cleanly and clearly on distortion-tinged canvasses that recall the side of that house from the American Football album cover. And yet as the emo revival seems robust and healthy, I recently saw online that the house—which resides in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois—is for sale. Some things come full circle, it seems, especially with the release of a long-awaited second American Football album. But many things do change: people move away, houses fall apart, neighborhoods fall into dilapidation. Perhaps if the house is to be a metaphor for the resurgence of emo, it must be taken both as a memory and a state of disrepair that tasks the present with its rebuilding.
Following the US election on Nov 8, 2016, we asked Dowsers contributors to discuss the moods and music the results inspired. We collected their responses in a series, After the Election.I have studied music since I was a child, but in my memory there is one singular moment in which more was revealed to me about the potential of the art form than in any other event in my life. I was an undergrad student at Webster University, where I was studying music history and piano, when this metamorphosis happened. It was very simple: I was working on an assignment in the music building’s computer lab, half listening to a conversation between my friend Shumpei, a Japanese composition student, and one of the composition professors. Shumpei, for his senior project, was writing a symphony, and he was describing the work to the professor, saying that he was fleshing out this or that part of it on that particular day. The professor was intrigued by this project, especially because in today’s composition programs, most students are working in electronic, atonal, or highly-specialized experimental composition. For Shumpei to be writing a symphony was very strange. Then the professor posed the question that was immediately and permanently seared into my mind. He asked, “What’s it about?”It had never occurred to me that classical music could be “about” something. Clearly operas were about something, and program music was about something. But instrumental works? It seemed insane to me. My first thought was that the professor was joking, being facetious, testing Shumpei with an obviously rigged question. But as the conversation unfolded, I started to become attuned to a new plane of meaning in music. I became aware of its essence.I share this anecdote not only because it continues to resonate with me today in my work as a historical musicologist, but also because it frames the way I associate music with contemporary historical events. Whether one likes it or not, Trump’s election is the most significant, unexpected, and potentially transformative political event that has occurred in the adult life of a person my age. I am not saying this in the affirmative or the negative—I am merely being dialectical about it. It is going to produce a new political terrain. Neoliberalism is under siege, the Democratic Party has fractured, the category of “president” is changing, and, most importantly and ideally, the Left has a new position from which to critique—and hopefully overcome—capitalism. From a Marxist standpoint this is truly an interesting situation.I have found myself listening to Beethoven for the past week. At first I did not question it, for this is typical of someone in my line of work. But as I started to realize that I was listening almost exclusively to Beethoven, I began to wonder why this was. As I have thought about it for the past few days, I find myself contemplating not only Beethoven, but the French Revolution, Hegel, and subjectivity. I don’t intend to descend too far into philosophy here, but I will point out that for Adorno, Beethoven’s music represented a particularly sensuous, philosophical image of society. He believed that in Beethoven’s music resided hope and transformation, that his music personified the emerging human quest for consciousness, becoming spirit. “Art is more real than philosophy,” Adorno wrote in his fragments on Beethoven, “in that it acknowledges identity to be appearance.” This means that, to put it reductively, art’s forms, like those of society, are subject to change, that the whole is mediated by the individual parts, that the totality can become something greater than itself, something non-identical, something other.What will Trump do? I don’t really know. I want to believe that he wont be that bad, and that, in opposition to him, we will witness the first revolutionary Left that has existed during any of our lifetimes. In my opinion, this possibility—as the sectarian, dead “left” has shown in the past decades—could not have existed if Clinton had become president. The code word here is “revolution,” and it always must emerge in opposition to something. Trump is the better opponent.My point with all this is that I look to Beethoven’s music for hope, because it was truly revolutionary in every sense of the word—its forms, its relationship to tonality, and, of course (!) its dialectical relationship to the French Revolution. His music is living proof that spirit cannot be extinguished. Beethoven during his lifetime (1770-1827) witnessed the rise and delay of the possibility of freedom, and this had a profound impact on his development as a composer. In no other body of music can one bear witness to such dizzying moments of hope and despair.The Eroica asked what it would mean if a particular interval resolved upward instead of downward, allowing the listener to observe as the status quo of form was broken apart before their very ears, melodies conversing and intertwining, down literally becoming up. The fugue of the op. 110 piano sonata contemplates, among other things, what would unfold if a theme was inverted, played as its own negative. The counterpoint and orchestration of the “Harp” quartet is sublime, especially in the last 90 seconds of its first movement, which contains gestures that continue to legitimately blow my mind. The late quartets investigated tonality to its full potential, so much so, in fact, that most music for the following 75 years was a form of sublimation, trying to catch up to what Beethoven did. This is distilled in Josef Danhauser’s 1840 painting Liszt at the Piano, which shows Hungarian composer and pianist Franz Liszt playing at the keyboard under the consterned bust of his great predecessor, a symbol of Beethoven’s domination of all of his 19th century pupils.To invoke the opening to this essay: What is music about? It is about humanity and possibility. It is an image of ourselves in which the rules do not have to apply, allowing us to work through our desires, our fears, our fantasies, and our losses. I conceived of this playlist as covering a range of classical works that I consider to have significant moments of beauty and freedom, but due to the lengths of the movements I would have selected, as well as the fact that for me, Beethoven is *the* subjective composer, I decided to make this a Beethoven Essentials, of sorts. These are some of his most inspiring flourishes of autonomy. I have listened to Beethoven this week because, if we were living in a sonata form, we would be in the development. There has been a thesis and an anti-thesis, and there is hope. Things are changing, whether we like it or not. It is up to us to determine how we recapitulate.
Broken Social Scene were on a roll in the early ‘00s. After releasing the great, mostly instrumental Feel Good Lost in 2001, their big breakthrough came the following year with the instant classic You Forgot It In People, which achieved a perfect balance of being simultaneously intimate and monumental. Coming up in the middle of the post-millennial indie-rock revival, BSS held their own among bands like The Strokes, Interpol, and The Walkmen. In 2005, they released their masterful and complex self-titled record, which contained a gigantic list of contributing personnel and boasted a 63-minute runtime. BSS were steadily becoming one of the most powerful supergroups in modern rock. Then, they took a sort-of hiatus, and exploded into a diaspora of side-projects before releasing Forgiveness Rock Record in 2010. So what, exactly, did they do during those five years? Okay, take a deep breath.In 2007, Kevin Drew released his first “solo” album, under the title of Broken Social Scene Presents Kevin Drew: Spirit If..., which was followed by what was essentially a Broken Social Scene tour that included tracks from that album and also from their previous records. The following year saw Brendan Canning’s own project, Broken Social Scene Presents Brendan Canning: Something for All of Us… (which featured guest vocals from Drew). Guitarist Andrew Whiteman’s band Apostle of Hustle released the jangly, shuffling National Anthem of Nowhere, whose title track had been road-tested in BSS shows; guitarist, bassist, and horn player Charles Spearin (also of Do Make Say Think) organized an avant-garde record called The Happiness Project. Feist released her mainstream breakthrough The Reminder (whose “I Feel It All” shares DNA with Drew’s “Safety Bricks”); fellow vocalists Emily Haines and Amy Millan put out their respective solo debuts.These albums represent a whirlwind of musical energy—yet, none of it went towards a proper Broken Social Scene album. What would have happened if the band had put out an album that reflected its members’ work from 2006-2009, instead of waiting until 2010 to team up for Forgiveness Rock Record? We can’t know for sure, but we can get close. This playlist envisions a “lost” BSS record of sorts, a potential album that never existed. So, close your eyes, travel back to the person you were 10 years ago, and pretend you’ve discovered a new Broken Social Scene record. Here we go.
To be totally honest, I haven’t spent much time listening to Linkin Park lately, and I’m not familiar with their most recent albums. My Linkin Park phase was in high school—Hybrid Theory (2000), Reanimation (2002), Meteora (2003), and Collision Course (2004) came out during that time. At that point in my life, I was mostly a classical, jazz, and rap fan—I wasn’t into heavy rock or metal, so Linkin Park was the most intense thing I listened to in my teenage years. And as I think back on it, it seems bizarre that I liked the band so much, because they really didnt fit with anything else I was listening to. But it makes sense now, because the reach and scope of their music were powerful enough to grip people outside the typical realm of nu metal. There’s something almost transcendental about early Linkin Park. They were too anthemic to be fully nu metal (à la Korn, Limp Bizkit, or P.O.D.), too hip-hop to be rock, and too emo and mainstream to be “cool,” at least as far as what was considered cool among my peers. Theirs was a profoundly relatable music that flipped the script on what it was supposed to be. Their lyrics had a radically human core, one that embraced and tried to work through longing and alienation. These people were dealing with complex emotions like guilt and shame when the Dave Matthews Band—probably the most popular band in my community—was singing about getting high and ejaculating. And the actual music of Linkin Park was very intriguing, boasting intelligent percussion, authoritative washes of reverbed guitar, disciplined use of electronics, and methodical pacing. Listening to Meteora as an adult now, I’m still moved by its quality, its musicianship, and its acuity. Growing up before social media, in a fairly bland, conservative suburban community, I didn’t know a lot about the world of music. I don’t remember too much of what I listened to back then, but I do remember relating to the angst and hopelessness of Meteora in a powerful way. Linkin Park were basically my Smiths, and I’m fine with that. They were the therapeutic outlet that was available to me, and I’m glad they were. It’s sad that Chester Bennington is dead, because his music always pointed, more than anything, toward a desire for deliverance from pain. I don’t know whether he achieved that in the end, but I do know that his music was there for countless lost teenagers like myself.
Nineteen-seventy-seven was a year of styles congealing and pointing beyond themselves, musical moments coming into focus and then, just as quickly, getting blurry. Four decades later, this single year of music continually haunts us with its greatness through deaths and rebirths, reissues, and reunion tours. With the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks…, the Ramones’ Rocket to Russia AND Leave Home, and The Clash’s self-titled album, it was a major year for punk; through Television’s Marquee Moon and Wire’s Pink Flag, we glimpsed the dawn of post-punk. And I, for one, still don’t know what to call Iggy Pop’s dual masterpieces from that year, The Idiot and Lust for Life, two records that strayed far enough outside the conventions of rock, proto-punk, and post-punk that they should maybe just be left under the art-rock banner. Likewise, Suicide’s ghostly, self-titled classic could be called anything from proto-punk to post-punk to synth-pop; its mercurial nature only amplifies its staying power as we continue to struggle to digest it in light of Alan Vega’s 2016 death.Also along the lines of the weirder, more avant-garde pop: David Bowie (who produced Iggy Pop’s two releases from that year) dropped Berlin-trilogy classics ”Heroes” and Low—the latter produced by Brian Eno, whose own Before and After Science came out that December. These records, alongside Talking Heads: 77, Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express, and Elvis Costello’s debut LP, My Aim Is True, pointed clearly and forcefully toward the New Wave of the ‘80s.Nineteen-seventy-seven also saw rock continuing to explode into a vast diaspora of sub-genres: disillusioned folk rock (Neil Young’s American Stars ‘n Bars, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours), politicized prog rock (Pink Floyd’s Animals), country-inflected jam rock (Grateful Dead’s Terrapin Station), smooth jazz rock (Steely Dan’s Aja), and whatever you’d call Billy Joel’s The Stranger. (Oh yeah, and John Williams’ Star Wars: Episode IV — A New Hope soundtrack came out.)This (incomplete, to be sure) list has probably inspired thoughts of nostalgia, as well as, possibly, some feelings of melancholy about the music of our own time. If strong opinions about any of these records have surfaced, it’s because 1977 is still very alive today. The year still guides the rock we make, and it still infiltrates our playlists. The political and social issues of 1977 still, in many ways, exist, and we still struggle to respond to them in ways that are appropriate and meaningful. This playlist isn’t going to change the world, but if it leads to a new way of understanding the present, that’s a good thing. Or, if you just jam out to it while cleaning your house or going for a run, that’s fine, too.
Some bands are predominantly studio entities who take their music on the road out of promotional obligation; I’ve always felt that Mogwai is a live band who happens to make albums. And despite having never seen them live (they ended up canceling the Chicago show I had tickets for a few years ago), I’ve found their generous offerings of live tracks over the years to be a fine substitute. These selections really glorify Mogwai’s post-rock essence, allowing the band to be heard in their element as a cohesive, refined unit that flows, climaxes, and recedes together. These tracks showcase the band’s uncanny ability to instantly switch from glacial drones to gnarled, meteoric guitar lines that tower above the mix. Their agility is amazing to me, as is their ability to collectively commit to a dynamic or timbre within a split second. As a member of a noise-rock band myself, these are things I aspire to do with my own group, and Mogwai is one of the ensembles I always turn to for sonic advice.Their earlier, more guitar-centric music is clearly on display here, with excellent and moving performances of “Yes! I Am A Long Way From Home” and “Cody.” Unfortunately, their unbelievable live LP, Special Moves, which has great performances of later tracks “I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead” and “I Love You, I’m Going to Blow Up Your School,” isn’t available in its entirety on Spotify, but I highly recommend seeking it out elsewhere. Government Commissions (BBC Sessions 1996-2003), however, is well-represented in this playlist, and it contains some breathtaking moments, from the reverb washes of “Superheroes of BMX” to the slow-burn intensity of “Hunted By a Freak.” Many of the other tracks here are from EPs and reissues. Mogwai has really done their fans a service by releasing so much live material over the years; to submit yourself to it is to experience the true nature of their music.
Thrash is all about feeling. It’s about low-register riffs that hit you in the gut, high-flying solos that make you throw those devil horns in the air, and gravelly singing imbued with a sense of purpose and meaning. It’s about raging against the powers that be with everything you’ve got in you. The “Big Four” of thrash defined these traits. Once they hit the scene some 30 years ago, the earth truly shook.Technically from L.A. but more commonly associated with their adopted home of San Francisco, Metallica is the Big Four group with the widest appeal. Everyone loves Metallica—classic rockers who want to go hard; hard rockers and heavy metallers who want something precise and driving; punk rockers in search of a bigger, tougher sound. Metallica were the sum of diverse influences, a cauldron that had been slow-cooking an angry stew of punk, rock, classic heavy metal, and NWOBHM, finally overflowing and creating something new: thrash. Metallica’s first two albums were great, but they really busted out of their shell with their third: 1986s Master of Puppets, the record that sent them on a skyward path. Above all, throughout their signature work, Metallica has displayed an unparalleled energy—a spark of cohesion and crispness thats rarely matched, even to this day.Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine was actually in Metallica for their first few years, but he was asked to leave in 1983 due to substance abuse and behavioural issues. Also from L.A., Megadeth’s a little thrashier than Metallica: Compared to the formers balanced, well-tempered aggression, Megadeth is wilder and more NWOBHM-influenced—which is to say they feel closer to the satanic howls, classic-style solos, and soaring riffs of Iron Maiden. Their second release, Peace Sells… but Who’s Buying? (1986), was one of the decades best metal albums, and it remains near the top of many critics’ greatest-metal-records-ever lists. That said, Megadeth’s catalog is pretty divisive—some prefer Rust in Peace (1990), others Countdown to Extinction (1992). In any event, Megadeth have been hugely influential, especially in the burgeoning genre of extreme metal.Satanism, serial killers, crime, violence… these are Slayer’s bread and butter. And their heavy topics elicit equally heavy music. There’s no other way to put it: Slayer slays. Formed by Kerry King, Jeff Hanneman, Dave Lombardo, and Tom Araya, Slayer hit the scene in ‘83 with Show No Mercy, which was pretty well-received. Like Metallica, though, it was their third album that catapulted them into the realm of greatness. When the Rick Rubin-produced Reign in Blood dropped in ‘86, it announced Slayer as one of the most formidable voices in metal. Its unhinged riffs and hellish yawps conveyed the feeling that the music was constantly going off the rails, a quartet of possessed musicians just jamming too hard and fast to ever stop. Reign in Blood was the beginning of an incredible run that also saw South of Heaven and Seasons in the Abyss. Of the Big Four, Slayer is the most deranged—in a good way.Finally, we’ve got Anthrax, the only one of the Big Four from the east coast—New York City, to be exact. Anthrax has had something of a fluctuating lineup, but their core centers around guitarist Scott Ian, drummer Charlie Benante, bassist Frank Bello, and vocalist Joey Belladonna (who comes and goes). Oddly enough, their third LP was their big breakout, too. Among the Living (1987) was explosive among metalheads, and dealt with decidedly nerdy stuff like Stephen King novels, Judge Dredd, John Belushi, and, quite possibly, the film Poltergeist II. Anthrax’s music is built from big riffs and thundering drums—and compared to their Big Four peers, its not nearly as Satanic!This feature is part of our Thrash 101 online course that was produced in partnership with the good rocking folks at GimmeRadio, a free 24/7 metal radio station hosted by heavy-music experts like Megadeths Dave Mustaine and Lamb of Gods Randy Blythe. Check them out here and sign up for the Thrash 101 course here.
The ’90s have never sounded better than they do right now—especially for modern-day indie rockers. There’s no shortage of bands banging around these days whose sound suggests formative phases spent soaking up vintage ’90s indie rock. Not that the neo-’90s sound is itself a new thing. As soon as the era was far enough away in the rearview mirror to allow for nostalgia to set in (i.e., the second half of the 2000s), there were already some young artists out there onboarding ’90s alt-rock influences. But more recently, there’s been a bumper crop of bands that betray a soft spot for a time when MTV still played music videos and streaming was just something that happened in a restroom. In this context, the literate, lo-fi approach of Pavement has emerged as a particularly strong strand of the ’90s indie tapestry, and it isn’t hard to hear echoes of their sound in the work of more recent arrivals like Kiwi jr. or Teenage Cool Kids. Cherry Glazerr frontwoman Clementine Creevy seems to have a feeling for the kind of big, dirty guitar riffs that made Pacific Northwestern bands the kings of the alt-rock heap once upon a time. The world-weary, wise-guy angularity of Car Seat Headrest can bring to mind the lurching, loose-limbed attack of Railroad Jerk. And laconic, storytelling types like Nap Eyes stand to prove that there’s still a bright future ahead for those who mourn the passing of Silver Jews main man David Berman. But perhaps the best thing about a face-off between the modern indie bands evoking ’90s forebears and the old-school artists themselves is the fact that in this kind of competition, everybody wins.
It may be that 2019 was the best year for ’90s metal since, well, 1999. Bands from the decade of Judgment Night re-emerged with new creative twists and tweaks: Tool stretched out into polyrhythmic madness, Korn bludgeoned with more extreme and raw despair, Slipknot added a new drummer (Max Weinberg’s kid!) who gave them a new groove, and Rammstein wrote an anti-fascism anthem that caused controversy in Germany (and hit No. 1 there too). Elsewhere, icons of the era returned in unique ways: Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor scored a superhero TV series, Primus’ Les Claypool teamed up with Sean Lennon for some quirky psych rock, and Faith No More’s Mike Patton made an avant-decadent LP with ’70s soundtrack king Jean-Claude Vannier. Finally, the soaring voice of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington returned for a moment thanks to Lamb of God guitarist Mark Morton, who released a song they recorded together in 2017.
Taking a look at the playlists for my show on Boston’s WZBC might give the more seasoned college-radio listener a bit of déjà vu: They’re filled with bands like Versus, Team Dresch, and Sleater-Kinney, who were at the top of the CMJ charts back in the ’90s. But the records they released in 2019 turned out to be some of the year’s best rock. Versus, whose Ex Nihilo EP and Ex Voto full-length were part of a creative run for leader Richard Baluyut that also included a tour by his pre-Versus outfit Flower and his 2000s band +/-, put out a lot of beautifully thrashy rock; Team Dresch returned with all cylinders blazing and singers Jody Bleyle and Kaia Wilson wailing their hearts out on “Your Hands My Pockets”; and Sleater-Kinney confronted middle age head-on with their examination of finding one’s footing, The Center Won’t Hold.Italian guitar heroes Uzeda—who have been putting out proggy, riff-heavy music for three-plus decades—released their first record in 13 years, the blistering Quocumque jerceris stabit; Imperial Teen, led by Faith No More multi-instrumentalist Roddy Bottum, kept the weird hooks coming with Now We Are Timeless; and high-concept Californians That Dog capped off a year of reissues with Old LP, their first album since 1997. Juliana Hatfield continued the creative tear she’s been on this decade with two albums: Weird, a collection of hooky, twisty songs that tackle alienation with searing wit, and Juliana Hatfield Sings the Police, her tribute record to the dubby New Wave chart heroes (in the spirit of the salute to Olivia Newton-John she released in 2018). And our playlist finishes with Mary Timony, formerly of the gnarled rockers Helium and currently part of the power trio Ex Hex, paying tribute to her former Autoclave bandmate Christina Billotte via an Ex Hex take on “What Kind of Monster Are You?,” one of the signature songs by Billotte’s ’90s triple threat Slant 6.