Best of 2019 in Indie Rock

Here we are…the last year-end summary of the decade. I’m in an amazingly different place at the end of the decade than I was at its onset. It was a different world, I was living in El Salvador, and I had completely lost the ability to find new music. Several years later, I got my mojo back and figured it all out again. As always, you will not see all of the same artists on my best of list as you will on the industry’s biggest names. I don’t try to span every genre. These are the records I found myself listening to most often this year. Let’s get at it.

Fresh – Withdraw

I’ve said quite a lot about this record, and I’m not done. It’s brilliant. Just fantastically crafted. I liked their first album enough to keep paying attention. Prior to Withdraw’s release, I heard the track Willa and knew it was going to be a special record. There is no stronger run of songs on any album this year than Nervous Energy/Going to Brighton/Willa. Fresh combines strong indie rock guitar work with clever lyrics and catchy as hell choruses. The album closer, Revenge, is an anthem you will be screaming for years. It took some work, but I got to see Fresh on their brief first U.S. tour a couple of months ago and highly recommend you see them wherever and whenever you can. The first pressing was 300 copies on yellow vinyl and 200 on split yellow and green vinyl.

Tacocat – This Mess Is a Place

Tacocat continued on the trajectory of their recent albums on their official Sub Pop debut – away from the harsher guitar sound and in the direction of straight pop songs. And it works – there are a few supremely catchy songs on this one, most notably Grains of Salt, Rose-Colored Sky, and Crystal Ball. They released I Grains of Salt before the album came out and I listened to it to death. The subject matter of this album varies a bit from previous efforts, as some tracks deal with the band reconciling what’s going on in the world around them. Good stuff. The Loser Edition was on jade-green vinyl. A black vinyl version is also out there.

That Dog – Old LP

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this record. You just never know when a band makes their first album in 22 years. Well…they nailed it. Old LP is a beautiful record. And it unmistakably a That Dog album, jumping from a distinctly 90s guitar edge (as in Just the Way) to a symphony (Old LP), with fabulous vocal harmonies throughout. The title track, Old LP, is a heartbreaking tribute to the Haden triplets’ father, who passed away in 2014. After the record came out, I had a few weeks to train myself to keep it together before seeing them play it live. I got close, but I failed. It’s a gorgeous, but difficult, song. Released on black vinyl and yellow vinyl. The yellow one was mostly exclusive to Kickstarter backers, but the had a few left over, which they sold in their Hello Merch store.

Martha – Love Keeps Kicking

That was this year? How is that possible? I feel like I’ve been listening to this record for at least two years. I have not. For anyone who has listened to Martha before, this record will fit expectations: powerful pop-punk earworms. Any track on here could get stuck in your head for days on end. Really strong showing, start to finish. Favorites: The Void, Into This, Wrestlemania VIII. The U.S. vinyl was on Dirtnap and came in opaque maroon (200), opaque pink (200), and black vinyl. The UK version (on Big Scary Monsters) was on blue with blue splatter (300), red (700), and black vinyl (1,000).

The Subjunctives – Sunshine and Rainbows

Holy hell, I needed this one. This was the first full-length from The Subjunctives, the latest band from Ean Hernandez of Sicko. And it is awesome. It sounds a lot like what I would imagine a 2019 Sicko record would sound like, if you added a handful of sadder lyrics into the classic mix of upbeat, nostalgic, and funny ones. Ean and company reminded us with this record that they were, are, and will forever be pop-punk royalty. This is how the rest of us should be doing it. Pass It On should get stuck in your head, Hey Dad is infectious, but with some depressing undertones beneath the pop-punk exterior, and Dumbass is the office worker’s anthem that we’ve all needed. And to make sure it lives up to its 90s roots in full, there is even a hidden track at the end of the last song…which is fine in my home music library, but dudes, you’re messing with my Spotify playlists. It’s out on Top Drawer Records on red vinyl.

Charly Bliss – Young Enough / Supermoon

Charly Bliss surprised us with an EP late in the year here, so they get a double entry. Their second full-length, Young Enough, is very different from their debut. Gone is the fuzzy guitar noise that first drew me in. They doubled down on pop songs and synth for this one, and added some darker subject matter. It’s clearly a much more personal record than anything they’d released before. On first listen, I wasn’t sure about it, but it grew on me quickly. Then I saw them perform it live, and it jumped several additional notches for me. The boundless energy Eva poured into every song made them come alive for me much now fully. I think The Truth is one of the best overall songs they’ve written. Young Enough came out on blue vinyl in the U.S. (Barsuk) and UK (Lucky Number). There was also a Vinyl Me, Please exclusive version on orange vinyl with blue and white splatter (limited to 300).

Then they went and dropped Supermoon. They described this EP as in between the sound of their first and second albums, and I concur. The whole thing is great. Threat, Slingshot, and the Supermoon are all excellent tracks. The vinyl for this one is coming out next year.

Nato Coles and the Blue Diamond Band – Flyover

Nato Coles & the Blue Diamond Band should probably be from Jersey, but they are an unabashedly Midwestern band of rock n’ roll misfits. Their latest album, Flyover, is packed full of American rock vignettes. I’ve always thought their stuff fit really well with The Gaslight Anthem, except with Gaslight, I always got the sense that they were playing a part. The Blue Diamond Band is not – they are every bit what their songs say they are. The record is strong throughout, but the 1-2 punch of Standing on the Corner Alone and The Roadrunner is my favorite part. Flyover is out on Don Giovanni on black vinyl.

Upset – S/T

Upset has the distinction of being the only band on here I enjoyed listening to, but knew next to nothing about. So I looked them up. Hold up, Patty Schemel is in Upset? From Hole?!? Who knew? Anyway, I’d picked up their drop a few years ago and thought it was really solid, so I got their full-length when it came out last month. Also very solid – classic indie rock song composition and fun throughout. The two tracks that really stand out for me are Tried & True and Mullet, both of which appear late on the album. Released on the ever-dependable Lauren Records. 300 copies on butter cream vinyl.

And here, for your listening pleasure, is a playlist featuring all of the above and more. 2019 had a lot of songs that were clearly designed to be the heavyweight closer for their respective albums. I put them all at the end of the playlist because of that, but then realized that most of my favorites for the year were buried at the end. Also, “Old LP” was the no-question closer, so I moved the others up. Buy the records! Listen to the playlist, too!

Poorly Timed Album Review: Skating Polly – The Make It All Show

Skating Polly - The Make It All Show LP
It turns out working full time while going to grad school, planning/executing a cross country move, and filming a documentary (more on that later) doesn’t leave a ton of time for other things. Who knew? Well, I have finished some of those activities, and can now turn some of my attention back to my website updates, and that means it is time to catch up on 2018 record reviews. First up: Skating Polly’s latest full-length, The Make It All Show. This one was released back in May. I do not think it has gotten nearly the attention it deserves. This is an excellent record, and the best they have released to date.

I think people have long gotten hung up on how young the members of Skating Polly are. Focusing on that automatically caps how good you think the music can be. It becomes, “Wow, that’s great for their age,” instead of just, “Wow, that’s great.” It’s time to drop the qualifiers, folks. The Make It All Show is a killer rock record. Starting some time in 2017, if I recall correctly, Skating Polly went from a two-piece, to a three-piece, adding their brother, Kurt, to the lineup on drums (mostly). I love what this move did for the band – the musical depth that an extra member added was immediately obvious.

The first (and only, so far) pressing of The Make It All Show was on a really cool pink and red splatter vinyl, released on El Camino Media:

Skating Polly - The Make It All Show - Pink/Red Splatter Vinyl

This record took an unexpected turn for me. I thought I had established a good idea of what to expect from Skating Polly musically. I’ve loved their energy since I first happened upon them at Riot Fest in 2015. Their harsher material best captures that energy and draws you in, but I have found that the tracks of theirs that keep me coming back have been the less-brutal, more-pop-influenced tracks. This has been true for their last three releases: “Dead Friends” and “A Little Late” on 2014’s Fuzz Steilacoom, “Pretective Boy” on 2016’s The Big Fit, “Black Sky” and “Louder in Outer Space” on last year’s New Trick EP

Those types of tracks are great on The Make It All Show as well. Their louder songs, however, have made the leap. The grand standout on the album is “They’re Cheap (I’m Free)”. This song’s vicious auditory assault tore a path of destruction through my living room. Once I sifted through the wreckage, I played it again. The track begins with a perfectly evil, menacing bassline and clear calm-before-the-storm vocals. The intensity builds and explodes into a chorus of savage badassery. It’s freakin’ great. Check it out:

Next up: “Camelot”. This one has a similarly vicious intensity level. It’s a full-speed, shredding rock beast, with another killer bassline. The last couple of lines could easily be the chorus of another song. Here’s the official video:

I’ll wrap up with my favorite of the less-noisy tracks: Hollywood Factory. I don’t have a ton of insights on this one…it’s just a great pop song and ends up stuck in my head with great regularity. Here, again, is the official video (they make a lot of those):

Great record, start to finish. Highly recommended.