Words by Tommy Johnson
When not writing as a Cincinnati Bengals and Reds apologist, Tommy Johnson has contributed features and reviews on music for Off Shelf, Ghettoblaster, and local Dayton print and web publications. His writing style is to try and capture the stories behind the music for those who want to share which will be expanded over the next year as he embarks on a book writing venture. Here are his top ten albums in no order.
Wet Leg – self-titled (Domino)
Dropping seemingly two of the biggest singles of 2021, you would wonder if the debut album from UK’s Wet Leg would meet the hype. I’m happy to report that one of the most anticipated albums to drop this year only made audiences from all over the world become more rabid. Wet Leg went into the studio wanting to record tracks that focused on fun and they accomplished their vision to utter perfection. The self-titled album feels that it was plucked from the mid-to-late 90s rock timeline, a period that was so influential to many that were discovering music. Lyrically, the dryness within the tracks exhibit an attitude and style that is cool and carry a seemingly “no fucks given” approach. Picking tracks that you should check out is damn near impossible because from start to finish Wet Leg craft an album that offers zero skips.
Sooner – Days and Nights (Good Eye Records)
Sooner captured my heart and evoked a wide range of emotion with their debut album. Formed in 2016, the band blends alternative rock, dream pop, and shoegaze in a style that is lush and particularly energetic. Nothing is too forced within each of the songs instrumentally-wise, which in part allows each of the members to showcase themselves with ease. Federica Tassano’s ethereal yet powerful vocals perfectly pairs with the mood on the album. The lyrics are heavy at times, with the spotlight centering on the effects of being within complicated and abusive relationships within yourself and others. Fans of Mazzy Star will undoubtedly fall for Days and Nights just as much as I did.
Scrunchies – Feral Coast (Dirtnap)
A few years ago while hanging around in Minneapolis I met someone that was all about the music scene. I asked what were some of the bands/artists that people are sleeping on and I was told that I better not be sleeping on anything that Laura Larson and Danielle Cusack were in. Dammit, they were right. Following the debut Stunner (released in 2018), Feral Coast amps up the brashness and throws it out there for the world to take on. Curating an album that tugs on the lines of soft and heavy can be daunting to some but for Scrunchies the melodic hooks along with the emotive lyrics explode through the speakers with an intensity that is necessitated. There’s no room for bullshit within Feral Coast; get onboard and be prepared to feel empowered because you deserved to be.
Julie Odell – Autumn Eve (Frenchkiss)
The backstory of Julie Odell is one that many would read and instantly feel a deep connection. Having spent most of her early adulthood unabashedly caring for little beyond herself, the birth of her daughter forced Odell to take stock of what was going to be happening next. The breathtaking Autumn Eve is broken into two sections: songs that are focused on Odell’s world before giving birth and the other half after becoming a mother. Together the album generates a softness not only within the vocals and instrumentals. Some tracks such as “Envelope” pushes the album forward when it’s needed, but the highlight of the Autumn Eve is “Caterpillar.” This single fully embodies Odell’s maturation as a person and is arguably one of the most beautiful piece of work I’ll ever hear.
Jobber – Hell In A Cell (Exploding In Sound)
I can’t pinpoint when exactly I started to find myself embracing the fantasy world of pro wrestling. Perhaps experiencing the roller coaster of emotion when Elizabeth and Macho Man Randy Savage embraced each other and rekindling their relationship at WrestleMania 7 could be a good starting point. NYC’s Jobber have followed the sporting entertainment company themselves so much that they have made it into the band’s ethos. Heavy riffs, punchy drums, and sugary sweet vocals drive the songs in Hell In A Cell. Sitting around a runtime of about seventeen minutes, it’s a fun listen and deserves a title shot at an upcoming indie event.
The Garden – Horseshit on Route 66 (self released)
The Orange County duo have been notoriously cemented within the LA music scene for their cheekiness in attire and recklessly embracing chaos – the truest form of the DIY punk scene. Horseshit on Route 66 contains The Garden’s most energetic music to date. The duo mentioned that the songs within the album were inspired by scary stories they read and were told as children, which can be felt all throughout. So Cal hardcore and UK punk influences are spliced in to add another element that pushes Horseshit on Route 66 harder. I was beyond stoked to get onboard once I spun early singles “Freight Yard.” The ominous vibe to hit hard on the first spin and still does today.
Booter – 10/10 (self released)
Nothing makes me happier than seeing (and in this case, hearing) when an individual finds the strength and courage to be themselves. In the case of Booster’s lead singer Alannah Walker, the songs on 10/10 officially elevated her into being as independent as she ever has. What truly makes it one of my favorite albums of the year is the overall production that it brings; acts such as Guided By Voices, The Breeders come to mind. The hooks along with the irresistible charm with 10/10 will be keeping me coming back. I can’t wait to see Booter in a seedy hole in the wall and just let loose.
Kal Marks – My Name Is Hell (Exploding in Sound)
There was a moment in time where Kal Marks was staring down the end of the line as a band. Fortunately lead frontman Carl Shane was contacted by Dylan Teggart to see if they could play some music together. These sessions inspired Shane to keep Kal Marks rolling; Christina Puerto and John Russell were added to help flush out the guitar and bass lines. My Name Is Hell is a fucking blitzkrieg of sound mostly in part due to the band’s new evolution. Shane sheds his theoretical vocal cocoon to reveal a more human approach but still holds strong to his trademark growl. Heart pounding guitar riffs and unhinged drums at with “My Life Is A Freak Show,” “Shit Town,” and “Everybody Hertz” offer zero chance for the listener to take a second to breathe. I can’t tell you how much I spun this album this year; it’s damn near criminal if I’m being honest. The surface of what this iteration of Kal Marks has just been scratched and I’m throwing all my money to the cause.
The Black Angels – Wilderness Of Mirrors (Partisan)
Unearthing any sort of need to be influenced to write was not a problem for the Austin outfit. With everything unraveling politically and environmentally over the past few years, The Black Angels went to work on what could be argued as their best album to date. “Without A Trace,” Wilderness of Mirrors lead track, pulls the curtains to allow fuzzed out guitar and echoing vocals to welcome you to the sonically psychedelic experience you’re about to gain. Melancholy surrounds the rolling guitars featured on “100 Flowers of Paracusia.” My favorite track of Wilderness of Mirrors is the dynamic “El Jardin,” which offers up lyrics seeming begging to the listener to please protect those around you. “La Pared (Govt. Wall Blues)” is one of the biggest songs, with the instrumentals showcasing stadium filled sound.
Florist – self-titled (Double Double Whammy)
When Florist’s self-titled had spun halfway through, I immediately began thinking about the nights drinking beers with friends on summer nights. The worries and pressures of everyday life were displaced and all seemed right. The production was eerily similar to what I painted above; the band rented a house in Hudson Valley and allowed themselves to organically follow their instincts. The sounds of crickets and falling rain within the backdrop on several tracks of the album gel perfectly. We are so fortunate to seemingly be eavesdropping from start to finish.