This playlist collects new music that The Dowsers’ Maura Johnston has fallen for in her workaday life as a music writer and her semi-professional life as a DJ for WZBC, Boston Colleges independent radio station.One of the most pleasant surprises of 2017 has been my personal rediscovery of a few labels that began putting out high-octane indie pop decades ago, and continue to release sweetly catchy records today. Elefant Records out of Madrid has been plying its wares since 1989, and La Bien Querida, the project of Bilbao-born Ana Fernández-Villaverde, hits all the high spots of the genre on "El Lado Bueno"—warm opening chords, hooks that split the difference between agitated guitar pop and hopping synth pop, Fernández-Villaverdes assured vocal serving as a guide. Matinée Recordings, which launched in 1997, is still at it as well; their high-quality roster of artists includes The Last Leaves, whose lineup includes three-fourths of the beloved Australian outfit The Lucksmiths and whose debut single is made for long walks in autumns fading daylight. This months slate of songs is full of delights from new artists (Chicagos Varsity, Los Angeles Blushh) as well as super-confident statements from veterans like Julie Doiron (of Erics Trip) and Beck.
There was a time when emo and indie were forced to sit at separate tables in the lunchroom. But volcanic new songs from the battle-hardened Brand New and Rainer Maria prove that genre tags are often too restrictive and willy nilly, and that its never too late for a band to express themselves via insightful lyricism and volcanic outbursts. And while we praise the emocore veterans for their standard-setting returns, take some time to breathe in the potent resurrection of shoegazing hardcore/proto-emo deities Quicksand, while also appreciating the stunning artistic growth Turnover has already shown.Elsewhere: Seven years after This Is Happening, LCD Soundsystem has returned with some of their more searching, epic songs, while R.E.M. guitar god Peter Buck and Sleater-Kinneys Corin Tucker have made sweet music together with Filthy Friends. And though his band cant seem to stick to a name, Oh Sees leader John Dwyer continues to prove himself one of the undergrounds leading lights.
Power pop could be perhaps the most ironically named of rock subgenres. Sure, as a purely sonic descriptor, it makes sense: Take the pristine jangle of ‘60s melody makers like The Byrds and Love and add some Marshall-stack muscle. But historically speaking, power pop has been the playground of the powerless: the aspiring Anglophiles who dreamed of being as big as The Beatles only to get crushed by an indifferent music industry (Big Star, Flamin’ Groovies); the eccentrics whose expertise with a hook belied their peculiar personalities (Todd Rundgren, Cheap Trick); the down ‘n’ out misfits for whom the ringing chords of a Rickenbacker are the only salve for a world of pain (The La’s Ted Leo).For enthusiasts, power pop represents rock ‘n’ roll in its most immaculate state—the perfect synthesis of melody, harmony, and riffed-up swagger. But at its most potent——be it Badfinger’s swooning “No Matter What” or Sheer Mag’s aching “Just Can’t Get Enough”——it’s also the frozen-in-amber sound of dreams unfulfilled, love unrequited, and halcyon days that can never be relived. Even as its gamely adapted to every rock trend of the past 40 years (punk, indie rock, lo-fi, grunge), power pop’s essential chemistry remains the same: It’s the sugar rush and the bitter pill all in one.
2018 has been a great year for music so far, so we decided to create a ‘currently listening’ playlist that captures the new (and new-ish) releases we’re listening to right now. Some of the tracks we’ve included are by our friends and others are by people we wish we were friends with, the common thread is that they’re all grade A bangers. It’s important to support other musicians and hopefully people who like Doe will also find something they like here. We’re going to keep adding to the playlist as the year goes on, if nothing else it’ll provide something we can listen to together in the car on the way to shows to get pumped. - Nicola (Doe)
Woolworms third album, Awe, is coming out on Mint Records on November 8th, 2019. To hype the first single, Hold the Bow, the band put together a playlist of music that inspired the song and the album. The playlist covers brand new local bands from Vancouver, pals that the band has met across North America on tour, Mint Records label-mates and heroes and serves as a glimpse into the bands world.
It was 2010, and ghosts were everywhere. The previous decade’s electronic innovations were staring down dead ends: Dubstep had run its course, and minimal techno was flatlining. In the absence of a bold new narrative, absence itself haunted the conversation. Into this void stepped Tri Angle. The Brooklyn label, founded by Robin Carolan, came whispering of another world. The first record on the label, Balam Acab’s See Birds, was all sighs and reverb, its sonics as corroded as a thing exhumed. The label’s next release was an eponymous EP from someone or something called oOoOO—not so much a band name as a wraithlike howl.Over the next few years, this kind of doomy affect would become a kind of self-parody, but Carolan never settled for kitsch. Taking echo-soaked emptiness as a starting point, he kept pushing outward and, in the process, redefined the sound of 21st-century pop. Acts like Forest Swords and The Haxan Cloak helped make goth cool for a new generation; Lotic and Rabit drove deconstructed club music toward dystopian extremes, queering the electronic vanguard; Clams Casino shaped an entire generation of hip-hop by steeping his beats in an impenetrable haze. It’s impossible to think of Billie Eilish—to name just one multiplatinum megastar—without Tri Angle’s atmospheric precedent.In April, Carolan announced that he was closing down the label, bowing out after just 10 years. To mark the occasion, he put together a 29-song playlist. (It’s telling that he added the first tracks to the playlist in September 2019; clearly, he’d been getting ready to shut things down for a while.) It makes for both a strong introduction for the uninitiated and a comprehensive recap for the label’s followers: While it’s neck deep in murky gloom (The Haxan Cloak’s sensuously dreadful “Miste,” FIS’ frankly terrifying “DMT Usher”), it also touches upon more ecstatic club music (Katie Gately’s “Lift”) and, crucially, the sort of genre-crossing soul (AlunaGeorge’s “You Know You Like It,” How To Dress Well’s “Ready For The World”) that constitutes one of the most fertile fields in pop music over the past decade. Taken together, it makes for a wide-ranging look at a label whose influence outstripped its own fame. Tri Angle is dead; long may it haunt us.
The world has gotten smaller. If you compare the U.S. and U.K. Top 40 pop charts these days, you’ll mostly see the same batch of songs on both. It’s probably a function of the Information Age turning cultural variations into one big, transatlantic pile of homogeneity.But it wasn’t always that way. In decades past, the British and American pop charts were almost entirely different creatures. Americans trawling through the U.K. Top 40 would encounter a slew of songs and artists that were foreign to them in every sense of the word, as well as some they might know but would never have expected to have mainstream appeal.The U.S. Top 40 has always been known for playing it safe. Rarely does anything too far outside the margins pop up. But in England of old, you could find edgy, underground artists rising to the top as well as utterly eccentric bits of weirdness with no readily discernible explanation, the results of the kind of old-fashioned regionalism that’s been increasingly phased out.This collection of U.K. Top 40 hits from the ’60s through the ’90s is designed to astonish Americans who’ve grown used to thinking of the pop charts as the home of the lowest common denominator. On one end of the spectrum are the artists too cool, too quirky, or too in-your-face to ever score U.S. pop hits. That encompasses everything from the doomy post-punk of Joy Division and Public Image Ltd. to the goth glory of Bauhaus, the seminal electro-pop of Kraftwerk, the punk roar of The Damned, and the thrash-metal madness of Megadeth.But before you decide the U.K. musical mainstream is just exponentially cooler than that of the U.S., take a look at the other end of the spectrum. There’s goofy pre-WWII pastiche, Peter Sellers’ mock-dramatic recitative of “A Hard Day’s Night,” a loopy-sounding brass-band instrumental, a ska remake of a tune whose only lyrics are “Ne Ne Na Na Na Na Nu Nu,” and plenty of other bizarre entries unknown to most Americans.It all adds up to one of the most schizophrenic playlists you’re ever likely to experience, swooping back and forth from the sublime to the ridiculous with giddy glee. And the breathless momentum incurred will echo the mercurial feeling of following the U.K. Top 40 in the pre-internet era.
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
Valentine’s Day can be a tricky affair, but when it comes down to it, no roses, chocolates, or wining and dining can compare with how you set the mood once you make it to the bedroom. If your special someone finds comfort in the woozy romanticism of James Blake or the lush surreality of Beach House, you may want to casually flip this playlist on. Clocking in at just over an hour, it’s got a little bit of old and new as it eases into its seductive spell with the sexy skulk of FKA twigs and Massive Attack, then gets straight to the point with Lana Del Rey’s silky confession “Fuck it I love you” and Billie Eilish’s hesitant heart-tugger “i love you.” Just before the mood gets too serious, though, we kick back into a throbbing groove with The xx, Caribou, and Four Tet, wrapping it all up with a wistful indie lover’s anthem that offers up the most apt of final words: “I like it all that way.”
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.