Words by Andrew Fetter
Andrew Fetter has been writing about music for over the last decade and playing in bands for even longer. In addition to writing the Head Space column, he hosts The Noise Kaleidoscope which airs Tuesdays from 4:30-5:30pm ET on 99.1FM WQRT in Indianapolis. Past episodes are archived online.
Okay, so I was really hesitant to put a full covers album on my top 10 from this year. But man if you’re going to do a covers album, do one where you’re covering Hawkwind, The Scientists and Dust. Especially if you can perform those songs pretty close to the original but still make them sound like YOUR songs. Paying homage to the 60s and 70s stoner rock and proto metal that was clearly an influence on their sound, Monster Magnet have in many ways given new life to artists that are often overlooked. Their cover of The Scientists “Solid Gold Hell” in particular gives an appreciation for that song I didn’t realize I was even missing.
“Rae Street”, the opening song from Courtney Barnett’s latest album gives a vibe similar to Lotta Sea Lice, her collaborative album with Kurt Vile. And while that was a good album, it didn’t fully represent the best that both of those artists had to offer. So after hearing Things Take Time, Take Time admittedly I was nervous. Her previous records on her own were so heavy (sonically and emotionally), I wasn’t sure how I’d respond to a more “chill” Courtney Barnett record. Once things picked up, my fears were instantly set at ease. Sure it’s not as “rocking” a record as Sometimes I Sit And Think or Tell Me How You Really Feel, but this still has her signature “socially awkward heart on the sleeve” vibe that’s sometimes too relatable. And maybe with the past year, having a more laid back soundtrack to those same feelings is needed.
Once again, Damien Jurado proves himself to be a master storyteller whose ideas are overflowing but still compelling. Averaging about a record a year these days, Jurado has never struggled to find his voice even after the passing of friend and collaborator Richard Swift. The vibe on The Monster Who Hated Pennsylvania brings to mind Ghost of David-era Jurado, particularly on “Johnny Carvella” with slowly a rising distortion that isn’t necessarily out of place, but it’s certainly unexpected, amongst a collection of otherwise mellow indie-folk songs. It’s clear with him now releasing his own music himself, he’s embracing the freedom he now has to do what makes the most sense to him.
7. Los Esplifs – ESTRAIK BACK! (DSPs)
The perfect blend of psychedelic and Latin/Cumbia dance music, the combination you didn’t know you needed in your life. ESTRAIK BACK! is as strong a debut album as they come. Saul Millan has spent plenty of time in other Tucson-based musical acts (not least of all Calexico) and this album proves he can hold his own as a band leader as well as a collaborator. Joined by Caleb Michel, Los Esplifs create the perfect blend of an album to chill and zone out to, but also get up and dance. Perhaps both in one half hour sitting.
The best way I’ve ever been able to describe Deerhoof’s music is controlled chaos. Their quirky, noisy, mathy brand of indie rock has 4 individual musicians doing their own thing, but through some kind of trippy telepathy, they’re always on the same page and everything fits together perfectly. And it’s anyone’s guess as to what has led to such a cohesive groove that the band has been able to capture over the last 27 years. But from the very opening of Actually, You Can, you’ll get an immediate sense of what makes them just so damn good.
After Ty Segall made a record with essentially no electric guitars (2019’s First Taste) I honestly expected his next album to be LAYERS of guitars. I’m not sure why, because the jumps between his albums are never linear. And although what we get on Harmonizer certainly has plenty of layers, the layers are of cosmic synthesizers, causing one to easily view this as Segall’s space rock album. Which makes sense; he’s made quite the mark on the garage and psych rock world, an album like this seems like a natural step. And as per usual, he makes this transition of sound effortlessly.
4. Georgia Anne Muldrow – VWETO III (Epistrophik Peach Sound)
This was one of those wonderful accidental discoveries in researching artists for my psych rock column Head Space. And while a (mostly) instrumental hip hop album it may not fit directly in the mold for what that column covers, this album still takes you for a ride in the same way any Pink Floyd record would. VWETO III is the third in a series that gets better with each new installment. A meditation on the struggles for justice that our society has been facing for so long it’s the perfect soundtrack for getting off your ass and being a part of something.
I have NEVER been able to wrap my head around these guys. Are they punk? Are they rap? WHAT ARE THEY? Thing is, I always come around to the same conclusion: it doesn’t matter. Basically if a Guy Ritchie film was a band, that’s Sleaford Mods. Jason Williamson’s voice is dripping with as much contempt as can fit in each 3 or 4 minute song. And during 2020, when the album was written, there was PLENTY to be angry about. But what I love about Spare Ribs in particular is that it’s not misdirected anger for its own sake. Things like the pandemic and Brexit give way to some of their most focused songs to date.
Since Ones and Sixes, Low has been reinventing a sound that has always been undeniably them since they started. The band now paired down to the 2 primary songwriters, nothing seems “missing” per se, as Hey What doesn’t really carry a “band album” vibe. And yet, it sounds just as much like a Low album as Things We Lost In The Fire. I have no damn clue how they do it, but we’re certainly better for it.
I’m amazed (but also, not really) at how quickly I loved this album. Right off the bat it just hits so hard right in the sweet spot. And with each listen afterwards I love it even more. A very powerful and vulnerable record dealing with identity (both as a human and as an artist), it runs the full gamut of emotions and I guarantee the song “Allies” will absolutely break you.