202X Music Round-Up

I’m titling this 202X because let’s be real—2020 and 2021 just bled into each other on account of the pandemic. For all I know, we’re probably still in one of those years. “What is time!?” ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Just like most people with boring desk jobs, I wound up working from home, and at some point, I changed jobs and became a permanent remote worker. Which is awesome, because I dislike unnecessary human interaction when the other humans aren’t my friends. But the switch to WFH meant I could listen to music anytime I wanted, more or less.

Truth be told, my record collection languished hard in the years prior. I soured on sound of all kinds, which is wild, because anyone who knows a thing about me and this particular space knows how immersed I was in music. Booking shows, playing in bands, hosting a radio program. Whatever it was, I couldn’t get enough of it.

At a specific point in the previous decade, I just didn’t want anything to do with it. I was depressed and just thinking about music, all that joy it once brought me—it would send me into tears. I couldn’t pick up my guitar without having a panic attack. So I boxed it up, quite literally, and rekindled my relationship with figure skating, both as a viewer and as an athletic activity.

But as anyone knows, figure skating is a sport that is partially dependent upon sound, and slowly I began to pull myself out of that state. When my skills began to return to me, I began thinking about competing in adult events. So I needed program music. For a while, music only existed in service of the sport. I’ll write a post about this in the future.

The pandemic arrived in Philadelphia the same week I hit personal and season’s bests for skating. My then-job was getting worse by the minute. I was terrified to leave the house, just like everyone else. So I spent most nights in my bedroom, dancing around to free myself of pent-up energy. In June, I was teargassed in my own home. Work got worse, worse, worse, and on one particularly frustrating day, I picked up my guitar. Feedback turned into writing songs, songs turned into making a record, records turned into listening to other music again.

This is a roundabout way of saying that I eventually found myself back to this. Too bad if you had to sift through all of the above to get here. Go touch some grass. I am grateful that I was able to come back, as corny as that sounds. But I mean it.

What’s different now is that I don’t give a fuck about listening to everything. How exhausting. But I also want to acknowledge those years in which I was a sponge and tried absorb it all, because that’s what got me here. Mostly I want to make sure people I like in this world know their work was being appreciated. I know I would expect the same.

The records here reflect some of what brought me joy and kept my spirits going as I tried to claw my way back to being myself in a time when nothing was ever certain. Comprehensive it is not. Alphabetical it mostly is. Please accept the backhanded compliments for what they are—praise. These records ruled. I’m geniunely sorry if I forgot to include something I really liked. I have only so much bandwidth these days. I bought everything on this list. Most, if not all, are available on Bandcamp. If you can’t find something, go do a Google. You’re an adult.

Chris Brokaw, Puritan (12XU)
Florry, Big Fall (12XU)
John Sharkey III, Shoot Out the Cameras (12XU)
Lewsberg, In This House (12XU)

Maria poses in front of a wall wearing a 12XU baseball cap.
It’s a good hat.

I’ll start this off by saying I bought a fuckton of 12XU releases over the last 2 years. I have always been a big advocate of supporting labels, especially those who know what sounds good and trusting in that. These 4 releases span a wide array of straightforwardish rock, which is basically the wheelhouse in which I reside.

Chris Brokaw has been at this game forever and I am in awe of his ability to write both a perfect pop song in the span of 1:30 (“I Can’t Sleep”) and lay waste to the late Karl Hendricks’s “The Night Has No Eyes”—a song that was devastating enough as-is—in a single album. And we all know he probably has 15 of these records in the can, each easily cast off with little effort. A testament to a tireless work ethic, perhaps puritanical, but ugh, that’s just too fucking easy to say. It is a glittering, beautiful record. I also bought the effects pedal associated with this release—the Recidivist EQ/OD—and while it did not give me Brokaw-esque powers, it is a welcome addition to my board.

The first time I went to see Florry they played underneath the Gray’s Ferry Bridge this fall and the show was—I shit you not—2 hours behind schedule. I am an old woman now and never was a patient soul, so you can imagine how this almost destroyed me, but in the end it was worth it because I can say with no extensive research and the hubris of A Woman Who Has Seen It All that Florry are the best new fucking band in Philadelphia. There’s something so loose about Big Fall and live shows that evoke the spirit of New York City in the 1990s, when indie rock bands simultaneously borrowed from and equally subverted their sources of inspiration. I hear strains of Pumpkin Wentzel’s voice in Francie’s, a band that sounds like they’re recording a Silver Jews record with Nick Vernhes—on top of all the more obvious reference points of Neil Young and whatever. I don’t know why I am talking about this scene like it was something I personally experienced—I was a teenage twerp in New Jersey playing tennis and dialing up BBSes—but I suspect Gerard heard these reference points as well.

I have known John Sharkey III basically my whole adult life. Our previous creative endeavors shared bills together. I am aware of the nepotism but I also think this is a record worthy of inclusion. I am very proud of my friend who put out this stunning gem of a record that is absolutely not what I expected from him, and yet should have been the very thing I expected. I mean, at least he’s not throwing a lit road flare at me, but that’s how this record feels? Stunning and stark, released in a time when we probably didn’t need to plunge ourselves even further into darkness, but in the end comforted me in its beauty. Well done.

Do you need an uglier, pummeling version of the Velvet Underground catalog made by a bunch of Dutch people? Yes, you do, and this Lewsberg album fits the bill perfectly. It is appealing because of its unappealingness, finding groove and sparkle amidst the din. How the fuck does one make music like this? Asking for a friend.

Wet Leg, “Wet Dream” (Domino)

“What makes you think you’re good enough to think about me when you’re touching yourself?”

One of the stranger turns for me during the pandemic is that I got in the best shape of my life. One would think 4 years of figure skating would accomplish that, but no, just dancing around in my bedroom like a complete dummy was the kicker. (Fitness culture sucks, anyhow) The thing no one tells you when this happens is that suddenly you need a new fucking wardrobe. Do you know the indignity of your underwear falling off your body? I do. For a while I had to reinvent what I had until I managed to convince myself to buy some goddamn new clothes.

The downside to becoming A Hot Person is that a lot of married men come out of the woodwork and say wildly inappropriate things to you in direct messages. Yikes. So I feel like I have lived this line many times over in the pandemic. In my younger days, I might have been flattered by the attention (I was suffering from self-esteem issues, cut me some slack), but now I’m just like, there’s someone worthy of my greatness and it is NOT YOU.

While you are here, please have a listen to my pal Maura’s holiday-themed reworking of “Chaise Longue” because it is perfect.

Dry Cleaning, New Long Leg (4AD)
Sweeping Promises, Hunger For A Way Out (Feel It)

One of these bands sound like they took the conceit of the Velvet Underground’s “The Gift” and mashed it up with some Sonic Youth riffage for variety. The other took pretty average sounding Post Punk™ but slapped one of the best singers in the biz on it. Can you imagine if they took the best parts of these records—which, let’s be clear so internet mouthbreathers do not cancel me, are both VERY GOOD ALBUMS—and put them together? Holy fuck dude.

Mdou Moctar, Afrique Victime (Matador)

The riffage! How the fucking fuck?! Need I say more.

Object Hours, Piece Goods (Self-Released)

I found out about this record a full fucking year after it’s release and I am still angry about it. But the good thing is that I have listened to this slab of kraut-inflected psych rock and I’m feeling a lot better about it now. Features a member of Les Savy Fav, if you care about that sort of thing, plus someone from Work Clothes, whose contribution to Compulation Volume 2 was a highlight for me.

Endless Boogie, Admonitions (No Quarter)

Anyone who is reading this and doesn’t know what EB’s deal is, well, they are a very Cool Band. I actively avoided them in my younger years because Very Cool People listened to them and this went over my head, which is fine. Everyone grows at their own pace. It wasn’t until my thirties that I came around to it.

I encountered this record so many times over the late fall. “Oh, this is tiiiiiiight, what is it?” I would say on multiple occasions, not realizing I was hearing the same fucking record each time. I eventually capitulated at the Princeton Record Exchange, where it was blasting through the speakers. Enough is enough. You can’t just encounter a record on six different instances and NOT buy it. So I did.

There is something deep and sinister about Endless Boogie, but also something totally comedic about the whole enterprise. What I hear in this depends on my mood, I guess. Endless Boogie could probably growl the Arby’s menu over the span of 20 minutes and I would think it is the best thing I’ve ever heard. For all I know that is exactly what is happening on here and it is.

Versus, Let’s Electrify! (Teenbeat)

This is the first time Let’s Electrify has been made available on vinyl. Long overdue. Speaking of that 1990s NYC sound… it is a monster. I don’t think Versus get enough credit for how much they influenced a certain strain of indie rock.

Emily Robb, How to Moonwalk (Petty Bunco)

I think a lot about how Not Dudes have to make music that is always neatly packaged, cleanly presented, and upped in technical mastery—myself included—when so many fucking men release pure audio slop to praise? Like my t-shirt says, “Men have made a lot of bad art.” I am not saying this is bad art. Quite the opposite. It is a bluesy, punk-addled muffled but incredibly precise and self-aware mess. Others have extolled the virtue of its reference points, which, like, fine. For me, this album is a necessary pushback against being easy categorization and a deeply satisfying way to end 2021, careening into whatever the abyss holds for us.