Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: We’re in the midst of a post-punk renaissance! It’s a phrase that was on every music critic’s lips back in the early 2000s, when The Rapture were mining Gang of Four’s solid gold, Interpol were summoning the ghost of Ian Curtis, and !!! staked out the common dance-floor turf between PiL and ESG. And there’s evidence to suggest that the revival never really ended, as post-punk’s rhythmic principles have become firmly embedded in the DNA of modern indie rock. But whereas the post-millennial post-punkers offered a hedonistic escape from the looming black clouds of 9/11 and the Iraq war, the current class cropping in the U.K. and Ireland is forcing listeners to reckon with reality as if thrusting your head into an unserviced porta-potty on the final day of a weekend festival.There’s an old line of wishful thinking that suggests political turmoil makes for the best music (as if a couple of great records would be enough to compensate for the rise in income inequality, the degradation of the environment, and the proliferation of fascism). But the theory bears out when you consider all the exciting—and fiercely antagonistic—artists from the Isles who are thriving amid the chaos of the post-Brexit era. From the working-class warfare of Sleaford Mods to the pub-brawl poetry of Fontaines D.C. to the inspirational aggression of IDLES, these are good times for music about the bad times. But if these groups reinforce a definition of post-punk that centers on bruising basslines and melody-averse admonishments from vocalists with thick regional accents, other artists featured on this playlist uphold post-punk’s legacy of fearless, nonconformist experimentation, as manifest in the oblique artcore of black midi, the hypnotic pulse of Vanishing Twin, and the extended percussive odysseys of the aptly named Nottingham duo Rattle. That’s why post-punk revivals never go out of style: There are always so many different kinds of post-punk to revive.Photo courtesy of Daniel Topete
Despite its reputation as the No. 1 music-industry disruptor of 2019, Lil Nas X’s honky-hop hybrid “Old Town Road” owes a great deal of its success to an age-old formula: the promotion of the chorus from cleanup hitter to leadoff batter. Although its usage has gained considerable traction in the streaming era (when shortened attention spans demand that artists engineer their tracks to elicit love-at-first-click), you can find examples of chorus-verse-chorus songwriting throughout pop history. This playlist provides a brief history of songs in which the first verse is secondary, chronologically charting how the practice has evolved over time. Back in the days of Elvis and The Beatles, it was an instant invitation to get up and dance to the devil’s music. For iconoclastic rockers like Neil Young and The Clash, it was a means of putting their social messaging front and center. At the height of hair metal, bands like Bon Jovi and Twisted Sister put their shout-along refrains up front in anticipation of engaging with their arena-size audiences. And as hip-hop and R&B have become the dominant forms of pop music in the 21st century, it’s becoming increasingly common for artists in the former camp to lure you in with hooks steeped in the latter.
The great irony about the MTV Unplugged phenomenon of the 1990s is that the performances were often less stripped down than gussied up. Sure, the series provided a forum for rock artists to reimagine their riffed-up repertoires as campfire fare, but it also gave them license to crowd the stage with string players, woodwind sections, and other auxiliary personnel. Even a punk-conscious band like Nirvana weren’t immune to this when they sat down for their now-iconic Unplugged taping in November 1993 (released a year later as MTV Unplugged in New York), as they brought along a cello player and a couple of Meat Puppets. But the band’s quietest performance ever proved to be their most intense, no more so than on Kurt Cobain’s traumatic excavation of the Lead Belly standard “Where Did You Sleep Last Night.”That song didn’t just become a key part of Nirvana’s legacy; it set the gold standard for acoustic-administered emotional exorcisms, clearing the bar set by white-knuckled strummers like Bob Dylan and Richie Havens. The other performances collected on this playlist may not approach the same soul-wrenching extremes, but they each document a revelatory moment in a career (such as a young David Bowie finding his flamboyant voice in Jacques Brel’s “Port of Amsterdam” and the early Jane’s Addiction showcasing their range with the harmonica-honked anomaly “My Time”), or they capture a legend in their purest, most primal state (see: Lauryn Hill’s epic freestyle on “Mystery of Iniquity” and Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum stretching the physical limits of his voice on the haunting “Oh Comely”). The casual nature of acoustic performances has also presented artists with a forum for making other people’s songs their own, like Wings’ dramatic reading of Paul Simon’s “Richard Cory” (in which Macca cedes lead vocal duties to Denny Laine) and Heart’s Ann and Nancy Wilson’s arresting rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “The Battle of Evermore” (released on the Singles soundtrack under their Lovemongers alias). And no survey of quality acoustica is complete without oft-overlooked hair-metal outsiders Tesla, whose Five Man Acoustical Jam record actually predated the first proper MTV Unplugged release by six months.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, we’ve all heard that “rock is dead.” But if we are to believe its original edict of living fast, dying young, and leaving a good-looking corpse, then rock is still very much sitting pretty, mainlining a bottomless supply of embalming fluid. For all the perpetual hand-wringing over rock’s health status—Is it still relevant to anyone under the age of 35? Will we ever see another Nirvana? Do The 1975 and Twenty One Pilots count?—each year yields bountiful evidence that there’s really nothing to worry about. If dominant pop-cultural trends are waves crashing onto a beach, then rock ’n’ roll is the sand—a vast mosaic comprising infinite grains of different shades and shapes. Though it may not be able to compete with the wave for sheer attention-seizing impact, it ain’t going anywhere anytime soon.
But whereas many of the 2019 BestRockAlbums lists embrace a more liberal definition of the genre that encompasses the brittle serenades of Big Thief, the avant-yacht rock of Bon Iver, and the ambient symphonies of Nick Cave on his latest, our survey takes a more brutally reductionist tack—here, we celebrate all things noisy and/or nasty. The songs on this year-end survey span garage rock (The Schizophonics), post-punk (FONTAINES D.C.), arena-ready alt-rock (Chastity), psych (Mdou Moctar), power pop (Young Guv), post-hardcore (Fury), unruly emo (PUP), cacophonous protest music (Brittany Howard), scrappy jangle (Kiwi jr.), avant-garde dissonance (Kim Gordon), drum-machined minimalism (Sleaford Mods), and whatever the fuck you want to call black midi, but they all reinforce the idea of rock as not so much a guitar/bass/drums-driven sound as an anxious, agitated attitude and bone-shaking physical sensation.Photo Credit: Daniel Topete
It’s been said that the defining sounds of a particular decade don’t truly take hold until the midway point, be it Motown and psychedelia in the ’60s, punk and disco in the ’70s, or hip-hop and hair metal in the ’80s. However, the ’90s turned that theory on its head. Its big-bang moment—Nirvana’s Nevermind—occurred very early in the decade, sending shockwaves through the mainstream and underground alike, and transforming “alt-” into an all-purpose badge of outsider cool that could be affixed to anything from country to hip-hop. Kurt Cobain punched out in ’94, but the ripple effects that his band triggered continued to cascade in his absence, and 1995 was the year the alt-revolution hit its peak.
It was the moment when Dave Grohl discovered there was life after Nirvana; Radiohead realized they could be so much more than a post-grunge U2; iconoclasts like Björk and PJ Harvey dropped defining works; Alanis Morissette and Garbage pushed edgy feminist pop into the Top 40; and Oasis, Elastica, and Pulp provided the soundtrack to Britpop’s halcyon days. It was also arguably the last era when certified weirdos like Royal Trux, Mercury Rev, and Mike Watt could be given free rein on a major-label budget, and the last moment when one could credibly hold on to the sincere beliefs that Pavement had crossover potential and Sonic Youth was a logical Lollapalooza headliner. It was also a particularly glorious moment for one-hit wonders that wouldn’t have broken through in any other era, like Hum’s “Stars” and Spacehog’s “In the Meantime.”
But there was ample evidence that grungy guitar rock’s dominance of alterna-culture was on the wane: The debuts of No Doubt and blink-182 signaled a shift toward more palatable pop-punk; The Pharcyde, The Roots, and the Wu-Tang were inspiring teens to trade their flannels for backpacks; and the likes of Moby, The Chemical Brothers, and Goldie were turning stage-divers to ravers. In hindsight, the year portended the era of fragmentation we currently inhabit, as what initially felt like a generational movement became corporatized or broken down into subcultural niches. But with this playlist of 95 from ’95, we present a virtual mosh pit where freaks of every stripe are forever welcome.
In 2009, a viral video made the YouTube rounds called “Beatles 3000,” a short mockumentary that imagined how The Beatles would be remembered in the next millennium. Its answer was: not very well. But more than just playfully prodding a sacred cow, the video serves as a cogent commentary on how significant historical details are compacted and distorted over time, and how much of what we consider fact today is likely the product of a prolonged game of broken telephone. In “Beatles 3000,” various talking heads from the future make the authoritative claims that Scottie Pippen was a member of the group, that their list of hits included “Don’t Stop Believin’” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” and that they won the Super Bowl at Shea Stadium in 1965. But as absurd as that all sounds, we’re arguably witnessing the earliest stages of The Beatles’ legacy being slowly dismantled.
Sure, 50 years on from their breakup, The Beatles are arguably as popular as ever—they generate billions of streams, have their own dedicated satellite-radio station, and provide inspirational fodder for Netflix cartoon shows and Hollywood rom-coms. And their influence can still be heard in countless rock acts, from The Flaming Lips and Foo Fighters to Tame Impala and Ty Segall. However, when you look at the field they once dominated so thoroughly—the top of the pop charts—it can seem as if they never existed. Not only is the Billboard Hot 100 bereft of any bands that sound like The Beatles, it’s largely bereft of any bands, period. The dominant sounds of popular music today—trap, R&B, Latin pop—bear none of The Beatles’ DNA and speak to vastly different cultural experiences; in fact, the only time you really see The Beatles mentioned in relation to modern pop is when an artist like Drake eclipses their chart records (or gets a tattoo to celebrate such a feat), or in Migos memes. And lest we forget, the unanimously violent reaction to Gal Gadot’s recent quarantined-celebrity sing-along of John Lennon’s “Imagine” strongly suggested that the utopian peace-and-love platitudes of the Beatles generation provide little assurance to a more anxious younger generation that is worried more about how they’re going to pay for their next meal.
And yet: If you look and listen closely, you can still sense The Beatles’ lingering presence in contemporary pop. Beyond singers like Dua Lipa and Miley Cyrus taking a crack at covers, there are myriad rap and R&B artists who have paid their respects through subtle melodic lifts (see: the echoes of “Here, There and Everywhere” on Frank Ocean’s “White Ferrari”), shout-outs (Kehlani’s “All You Need Is Love”-referencing “Honey”), and tributes both direct (Rae Sremmurd’s “Black Beatles”) and indirect (Post Malone’s “Stay,” which he originally planned to name “George” in honor of its Harrison-esque guitar solo). What we’re hearing now is The Beatles being held up less as a direct musical influence than as a more abstract aspirational emblem of artistic freedom, pop-cultural ubiquity, and us-against-the-world camaraderie. In other words, the biggest pop stars of today may not sound like The Beatles, but they still want to be The Beatles.
The legend of The Stooges has been documented in every medium possible—books, documentaries, box sets, Audi commercials—and all support the undeniable case that punk rock as we know it would not exist without the glass-smashing, chest-slashing hysterics of Iggy Pop and his Ann Arbor bastard brethren. But while it’s tempting to plot The Stooges along a linear fuse that led to punk’s big bang, the group’s 1970 sophomore release, Fun House, has always defied such a simple narrative.Most of what we refer to as proto-punk—be it the sneering garage rock compiled on Nuggets or the heavy-duty psychedelic blues of Blue Cheer—is really just a louder, scrappier take on the British Invasion sounds that dominated the ’60s. And even the wild, death-trippin’ rock ’n’ roll of The Stooges’ canonical 1973 album Raw Power wasn’t that far removed from, say, the raunchy thrust of early KISS or Aerosmith. But from Ron Asheton’s opening guitar strike on “Down on the Street,” Fun House instantly feels so much darker, heavier, and—thanks to Ron’s drummer brother Scott and bassist Dave Alexander—funkier than anything of its vintage. A boiling-hot cauldron of early heavy metal, bad-trip psychedelia, James Brown, and free jazz, Fun House is anarchy executed with military precision—not so much a display of controlled chaos as chaotic control. To mark the album’s 30th anniversary in 2000, Rhino Records released a box set, 1970: The Complete Fun House Sessions, that compiled every single take from the album’s original recording sessions—we’re talking 142 tracks to document a seven-song album that yielded no viable non-album outtakes. And on the occasion of its 50th anniversary in July 2020, the box set is being issued on vinyl for the first time at a price tag of $400. But while some may question the value of hearing 14 versions of “T.V. Eye” in a row, for Fun House devotees, such financial and practical considerations are immaterial. Because that’s what Fun House does to you—it’s less a record than a sinister spell, that mysterious cursed object in a horror movie that you’re warned not to upset, lest you unleash its horrible powers, but you do it anyway. More than a mere proto-punk classic, this album belongs to its own subterranean netherworld, one whose pathways continue to burrow into all corners of the underground, as this playlist of Fun House favorites and followers can attest.
For a song proclaiming its desire for eternal youth, Alphaville’s 1984 signature single “Forever Young” has a way of making you feel pretty old. Certainly, the essential, inescapable ’80s-ness of the song—the sunrise-summoning synths, the slick gated-reverb drum sound, the lighter-waving chorus line, the Cold War context—has a way of making those of us who came of age in that era feel all the more attuned to the passage of time. And the song’s very lyrical conceit presents a cruel paradox: With its yearning plea to return to the innocence and ecstasy of adolescence, “Forever Young” also underscores the fact it must come to an end.At the time “Forever Young” was released, rock ‘n’ roll was reckoning with its own lost youth. Twenty years after The Who’s Roger Daltrey famously declared “I hope I die before I get old,” the original classic rockers were starting to become aware of, if not their mortality, then their fading relevance. Rod Stewart seemed particularly preoccupied with the subject: While he tried to align himself with the New Wave kids on 1981’s synth-powered new-generation anthem “Young Turks,” by decade’s end, he had fully accepted his dad-rock fate with the parentally themed serenade “Forever Young” (which shares only its title with the Alphaville song; in fact, Rod’s “Forever Young” is an interpretation of Bob Dylan’s namesake 1974 deep cut). Other veteran artists, however, defiantly embraced their inner child, like Tom Waits on “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up,” his ramshackle folk-punk repudiation of the adult world and all the responsibilities and disappointments that go with it.So while Alphaville’s “Forever Young” may strike many as an ‘80s synth-pop artifact, permanently frozen in the Reagan era, it really belongs to a broader tradition of pop and rock songs that celebrate the state of being young and/or recognize how fleeting that moment really is. This playlist repositions “Forever Young” in its true natural habitat, amid a set of songs that embody all aspects of being young: the feelings of invincibility (Oasis’ “Live Forever,” Skid Row’s “Youth Gone Wild,” fun.’s “We Are Young”), the celebrations of immaturity (Supergrass’ “Alright,” Wilco’s “Just a Kid”), the compulsion to live for the moment and seize the day (Japandroids’ “Younger Us,” Constantines’ “Young Lions”), and emergent anxieties over getting older (Lana Del Rey’s “Young And Beautiful”). “Life is a short trip,” Alphaville’s Marian Gold warns us on “Forever Young”—but this playlist represents a bottomless fountain of youth where you can relive and savor the best days of your life just a little longer.
Whenever you come across a list of the most influential rock bands of the ‘90s, you can easily predict the core names you’ll see on there: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Green Day, Nine Inch Nails, Radiohead, and so on. Rarely will you see the name Better Than Ezra. Yet they’re arguably more emblematic of the era than any of the groups mentioned above. Because all those other bands never really went away—to this day, you still hear them regularly on the radio, you can still spot their names in headlines on major music sites, and you still see new generations of kids wearing their faux-vintage t-shirts. In that sense, they belong to 2002 and 2009 and 2018 as much as they do 1993. Better Than Ezra are likewise still a going concern—they released a new single in June—but to many people, they are a band inextricably tied to the year 1995, when their single “Good” went to No. 1 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart.“Good” is the entire ‘90s alt-rock narrative condensed into three minutes and five seconds. It’s the ultimate totem of an era when the major-label trawl for the next Nirvana was cast so far and wide, it swept up any DIY group with a distortion pedal and quirky name—even one that cut its teeth playing frat parties in the indie-rock desert of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. But more significantly, it’s the song that effectively marks the end point of the ‘90s alt-rock revolution—the moment where the last remaining edges of an underground-spawned sound had been sanded off and polished into pop.With its strolling bassline triggering an earworm chorus caked in fuzz, “Good” dutifully followed the quiet/LOUD playbook established by the Pixies on their 1988 debut album, Surfer Rosa. That record’s violent mood swings were the natural sonic manifestation of a band trying to reconcile its formative loves of Peter, Paul and Mary and Hüsker Dü (the two influences that, according to legend, were listed in the classified ad that recruited bassist Kim Deal). But Surfer Rosa also represented a crucial evolutionary step beyond indie rock’s ‘80s hardcore roots, with its carnage unleashed in more controlled, strategic bursts, and Deal’s basslines serving as the cool counterpoint to Black Francis and Joey Santiago’s flesh-searing guitar onslaught. Before long, that poise-to-noise maneuver was being duplicated in all corners of the alterna-verse—most famously by Nirvana, whose frontman, Kurt Cobain, openly admitted to aping the Pixies.But if Nevermind set off the bomb that forever destroyed the barriers separating the underground and mainstream, what followed was an ongoing effort to clear the path and clean up the debris. In the hands of bands like Weezer and Bush, the spastic dynamic shifts mastered by the Pixies started to resemble carefully mapped peaks and valleys that you could see coming from a mile away. And though Better Than Ezra’s “Good”—and the album from which it hailed, Deluxe—was originally released independently in 1993, its mainstream-breaching major-label reissue in 1995 couldn’t have been more perfectly timed. By that point, the post-Pixies sound had become so familiar on alt-rock radio that Better Than Ezra could easily settle into their chart-topping position as if gliding into the ass groove on a vintage secondhand leather sofa. And while none of the band’s subsequent releases achieved the same level of zeitgeist-defining ubiquity, their less-heralded 21st-century catalog has attracted at least one famous fan, perhaps providing a clearer view of the band’s legacy: More than just the fleeting ‘90s alt-rock sensation of popular perception, Better Than Ezra are actually the missing link between Black Francis and Taylor Swift.
We’re supposed to be living in the age of infinite, unimpeded access to the entire history of recorded music. The reality, of course, isn’t so simple. If streaming services are the new record stores, they can be just as susceptible to supply-side issues as their brick-and-mortar predecessors. In other words: sometimes, the album you really want to hear isn’t in stock. In the streamiverse, certain artists’ discographies can resemble digital Swiss cheese, particularly if they bounced between number of labels over the course of the career, and especially if some of those labels went belly up. Historically, reissues have taken the form of lavish packages that come loaded with outtakes, rare photos and detailed liner notes, and that often still is the case. But in this day and age, “reissue” has also just become a fancy code word for “old album I can now stream on Spotify.”As such, some of the year’s most welcome new arrivals to the streaming world were technically reissues of once-lost records whose preceding reissues had also gone out of print, such as Simply Saucer’s crucial early ‘70s proto-punk document Cyborgs Revisited or pre-teen disco-punk diva Chandra’s 1980-era Transportation. 2018 also proved that there are still obscure private-pressed singer-songwriters (like Colorado-based pro-rock-climber-turned-troubadour Pat Ament), ‘70s space-rock groups (Canada’s Melodic Energy Commission), ‘80s post-punk bands (New Zealand’s Nocturnal Projections) and unsung ‘90s grunge groups (Australia’s Magic Dirt) out there waiting to rediscovered; still unsung funk auteurs deserving to be rescued from the crates (Tim Jones a.k.a. Preacherman); still no limit to the synth-fueled freakery lurking in the back catalog of late electronic-music pioneer Bruce Haack (check the proto-rap jam “Party Machine”); and still no bottom to the well of wiggy grooves emanating from West Africa in the 1970s (see: the Benin-focused second edition of Analog Africa’s Africa Scream Contest series).Among more high-profile reclamation projects, The Beatles’ 50th-anniversary White Album box set proved to be the rare classic-rock cash grab whose bonus tracks are just as mythical as the original material. (On top of providing fans with official versions of oft-bootlegged curios like “Revolution 1 - Take 18”—which connects the familiar acoustic sing-along with the sound-collage chaos of “Revolution 9”—the alternate Take 10 version of “Good Night” suggests Ringo invented the third Velvet Underground album a few months early.) In some cases, reissues transported us back to a watershed moment in rock history, be it Detroit’s mid-’60s garage-band scene (via a pre-fame Bob Seger’s band the Last Heard) or Neil Young’s infamously rowdy post-Harvest/pre-Tonight’s the Night residency at the Roxy in Los Angeles circa 1973. With others, we revisited notoriously mercurial bands at a key early stage in their evolution, like when The Flaming Lips started to dress up their psych rock with bells and whistles (on the ‘92-era gem “Zero to a Million”) or when Brooklyn bruisers The Men started to infuse their punk-rock roar with more emotional undertones on “Wasted.” And then there were reissues that gave us an intimate audience to private moments of creation—like Prince’s largely improvised Piano & A Microphone1983, Julee Cruise’s early ethereal demos, or the 25th-anniversary excavation of Liz Phair’s lo-fi Girly-Sound Tapes, which was perfectly timed to reify her profound influence on a new generation of confessional indie-rockers.But some of this year’s most notable archival projects were less about satiating completists than commemorating lives cut short far too soon. Women guitarist Chris Reimer—who passed away suddenly in 2012 at age 26—was honored with a collection of private home recordings, Hello People, that showcased his budding talents as an ambient soundscaper. The legacy of Ross Shapiro, the late singer/guitarist for Athens indie-rock hopefuls The Glands, was fortified with the release of the outtakes collection Double Coda. The free-ranging career of Chris Cornell was encapsulated by an box set featuring a handful of previously unreleased oddities—including a cover of U2’s “One” that subs in the lyrics to Metallica’s “One”—that present a more playful portrait of the brooding grunge god. And a survey of Joe Strummer’s solo career, 001, was capped with the 1988-era castaway “U.S. North,” a valorous 10-minute cavalry charge that marks a rare reunion with Mick Jones, suggesting the sort of epic rock music The Clash might’ve headed toward had they survived into the late ‘80s. It’s a reminder that the best reissues and compilations don’t just preserve history, but allow us to imagine an alternate one.
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.