In 2020 BB was attempting to cover more bands and projects than we have in the past. We accomplished this by inviting bands to write reviews of each other. Ian Stahl had a blast doing his review and asked for an assignment. If you’re like me, you love end of the year best of playlists! I asked for a review of his favorite bands from 2020. — Stefan Aronsen
Teenage Wrist: With their upcoming LP, “Earth is a Black Hole,” Teenage Wrist solidifies that they are, indeed, the second coming of early 00’s shoe-gaze emo-esque rock. I had the great fortune of seeing them live when they opened for Manchester Orchestra in late 2019 and their latest releases have made me love their sound and songwriting even more. Be sure to be on the lookout for “Earth is a Black Hole” in February, 2021.
Ward: Ever the chameleon, Ward has released a series of collaborations this year, each one different from the last and range from pure singer-songwriter acoustic to club style EDM. Fronted by Ward himself, his sounds are unified with his smooth Bono-esque vocals and clever lyrics. His LP, “Bring Me Low,” has a great collection of well written songs that teeter on European post punk and Southern California rock.
All Things Blue: Deliciously surreal, “Get Bit” has teeth like the Black Keys and lips like Moon Child. India Coombs’ luscious vocals sway atop of an ever changing blend of synths, guitars, and thumping drums. Their psychedelic blend of different sounds and adventurous song structures evoke a beautiful trip along the coast with the ever-tantalizing thought of diving into the deep blue sea.
Deap Valley: Punk rock duo Lindsey Troy and Julie Edwards sound like they could kick the shit out of me and I’d still come back to the front row for more. With fantastically aggressive hooks, these two badass women just did a collaboration with the Flaming Lips, aptly titled “Deap Lips”. My favorite track of all times from them is “Royal Jelly”, although it was a hard choice with so many other great tracks.
LA Witch: LA Witch is power trio with a sound bigger than the sum of its parts. Their 2020 LP “Play With Fire” feels uniquely Los Angeles, combining psychedelic guitars, hazy vocals, and surf-y drums.
Oyster Kids: With a sound akin to Glass Animals and a dash of Tame Impala, Oyster Kids have released a series of top notch singles with the promise of an upcoming full length. Be sure to keep these cats on your radar! If the full length is anything like “Give In” or “Work It Out”, it’s gonna be big!
Half Alive: Poppy and funky, Half Alive band has definitely been my not-so-guilty pleasure this year. I might be a little late to the party, but I heard “still feel.” when it came out in the fall with a live recording at Capitol Records. It was the breath of air I needed to make it to the end of the year. I’ve really enjoyed digging through their catalog and sifting through layers of electronic production, hooky bass lines, and funky vocals. I am really looking forward to seeing what 2021 holds for this band.
Talker: Talker’s luscious vocal melodies float dreamily along a current of tasteful grooves and snappy guitars. 2020’s “Wax” EP is an evolution in Celeste Tauchar’s self described “grunge-pop” style with stand out tracks like “Learning the Feeling” and “Suck Up”.
French Mouth: There a few entries on this list that make me very nostalgic for live music and French Mouth are high on that list. Their latest single, “Teal”, has a raw, punchy energy that is heightened by their honest lyrics and intense vocals. Here’s to the future resurrection of Indie Nights at the Federal Bar!
Iron Point: I get major 90’s grunge vibes from Iron Point and I love it. Their latest EP, “Attention” is a blazing clash of guitars, vocal hooks, and crunchy riffs that have kept me coming back for more since it dropped this year. Lovers of Sound Garden rejoice!
John Grand: Dare I say this guy is the next DeadMau5? I might… Grand’s an amazing producer and songwriter with some electronic beats and textures that are just bonkers. With both original tracks and remixes, Grand spins some of the catchiest stuff I’ve ever heard. With multiple 2020 releases, “Moon Drifter” stands out and would have been so much to experience live if the clubs were open, so here’s to hoping we can dance our asses off in ’21.
Paper Idol: Their facebook tag line reads, “Too electronic for indie fans, and too indie for electronic fans”. Whatever the genre, Matan KG of Paper Idol writers a very catchy tune akin to Glass Animals and Phoenix. Check out their latest single, “Clouds” and make up your own mind.
Sure Fire Soul Ensemble: In the larger Southern California bandmily, SFSE is some straight up San Diego funk. Their horn arrangements are only rivaled by their depth groove. If you like Lettuce, Jobim, and Santana, you’ll love these guys.
Missing Words: Retro yet forward looking, Missing Words have one foot in the 80’s but a modern songwriting approach. James Meays’s songs are rife with hooks and danceable beats. I’m looking forward to his next release!
Laureline: Dream pop and retro wave all rolled together, listening to their music is like watching the sunset through an ocean wave. An easy comparison would be the 1975 but I like Laureline more. I had to get up and do the awkward sway (my patented dance move) when I heard their latest release “I’m in Love with Everybody” and suggest you do the same.
The New Division: Led by producer and songwriter John Kunkel, the New Division is a healthy blast of retro soundscapes combined with modern rock and electronic. 2020’s Hidden Memories is another batch of high energy synth driven songs that will make your head bop.
Knower: A lot of people jumped on the Knower train with “Overdrive” and I’ve continued to really enjoy their music. “Different Lives” is a totally different perspective from the band, with chill wave synths and haunting soundscapes. I always enjoy seeing groups stretch and try out different things, and this track is beautifully introspective.
Whitney Tai: One of my top vocalists-to-watch, Whitney Tai is part top notch singer, part poet, and a through-and-through beautiful soul. Her latest LP, Apogee, has some beautiful dream pop hooks but my personal favorite is the closer, “Incantation”. With luscious strings and beautiful harmonies, this track along with the stunning music video, is amazing. Be sure to listen all the way through to when the band kicks in!
Spare Parts for Broken Hearts: SPfBH kick. Heavy guitars, distorted bass, and crashing drums evoke a female fronted Stone Temple Pilots. Their latest track “Dirty Milk” grabs you from the start and keeps you rocking all the way through.
Drac and the Swamp Rats: Every day is Halloween when you’re a fan of these guys. They perform their rockabilly punk in full costume regalia and put on an amazing show. “In the Dead of the Night” is a raucous live recording that captures their energy in concert nicely. I’m looking forward to seeing them live again the first chance I have.