Bodies – AFI
The pandemic has been a nonstop conundrum for the music industry, with politics, supply-chain disruption and a decimated live-music scene making the past year-plus very unpredictable. From that chaos, however, the bands and songwriters of the world have drawn inspiration to record and now release music befitting the era.
My favorite of the 2021 COVID crop has been Bodies by AFI. Frontman Davey Havok’s timeless musicianship—via thoughtful vocals and melodies—carries the listener on an emotional dark-rock journey, with traditional guitar/drum post-punk backing complemented by gothy synth/electronic touches. All 11 tracks stand out, but contenders for repeat listens include “Dulcería,” “Escape From Los Angeles,” “Looking Tragic,” “Far Too Near” and “No Eyes.” AFI’s tour in support of Bodies kicks of in February. riserecords.lnk.to/AFI
—Katie Perry, agent for Crawlspace Booking
SAULT (multiple releases)
SAULT is an elusive UK- based collective that eschew videos and photos in favor of pure musical content. Since 2019 they’ve released five full LPs (!) that act as a musical road map of forms and genres, jumping around stylistically but unified by undeniable funkiness. Gospel, funk, soul, hip-hop, Afrobeat, step, doo-wop—it’s all in there, filtered through the modern Black experience. Also, main producer Inflo has produced full lengths for (assumed SAULT-members) Lil Simz, Cleo Sol and Michael Kiwanuka. This puzzle of a “band” makes for one of the more musically rich listening experiences I’ve had in a long while. sault.global
—Aye Jay, illustrator, DJ, infrequent MC
“John L” – Black Midi
This song is almost too much to handle. “John L,” the lead single from Black Midi’s sophomore album, Cavalcade, comes on like a panic attack. The relentless main riff is made up of many parts—with a piano, guitars, bass, drums and a mess of brass all lining up for the rushed hook and then going off the rails in variety of unexpected dynamic shifts.
Laws of inertia don’t apply as the whole mess stops on a dime, pauses and restarts at the previous level, or at a louder/faster level, or just into chaos. It only lasts a little more than five minutes, but it feels four times as long.
“John L” is the most dynamic track from the follow up to the mathy experimental English rock crew’s much-celebrated 2019 debut, Schlagenheim, and it is a most appropriate anxious and cathartic response to life in pandemic times. A gloriously overwhelming experience. bmblackmidi.com
—Jason Cassidy, CN&R editor, local music dude
A Little More Time with – Reigning Sound
One of our greatest living songwriters, Greg Cartwright, has a knack for fitting the right songs into the right project. Reigning Sound is his canvas for crisp, 1960s-tinged rock songs—a counterpoint to his raucous, jet-propelled outfits (e.g., the Oblivians). A Little More Time with reunites the band’s original Memphis lineup for an ace record of smokey melodies and rhythms. The title track strikes a perfect blend of garage, soul and country; “I Don’t Need That Kind of Lovin’” calls back to Cartwright’s earlier material; and “You Ain’t Me” vibrates with jangling guitars, electric piano, “oohs” and “aahs,” and a multitude of other musicals touches—a mini-masterpiece in just over three minutes. mergerecords.com
—Nate Daly, drummer (Royal Oaks, Tite Nauts, Knifes, etc.)
Future Times – Plankton Wat
Last year, while many people were locked down wondering what the future held, Dewey Mahood locked himself in his Southeast Portland basement and created Future Times under his solo moniker, Plankton Wat. After my first listen back in February this record was high on my 2021 favorites list, and nothing’s changed. It’s the right music at the right time—delicate, ominous and full of unexpected turns. On Future Times, the former Chicoan (recall bands Norman and Good Time Charlie) and current Portland psych phenom, brings in more analog synth and noise, particularly on “The Burning World” and the title track. It’s a long, strange trip; one I hope outlasts our current state of affairs. thrilljockey.com/artists/plankton-wat
—Mark Lore, freelance music writer/DJ Mark in the Dark
GLOW ON – Turnstile
What happens when your favorite hardcore punk band goes pop? You get the most dizzying rush of a rock album in years, full of huge hooks to yell along with. I do like to dance and have a good time, and with GLOW ON, its third full-length release, Baltimore quintet Turnstile has had me skanking and thrashing around the house, yelling along and singing about feeling alive on the exhilarating “Holiday”: “Now it’s a holiday! …
I wanna celebrate!” turnstile.lnk.to/GLOWON
—Kirt Lind, Astronaut Ice Cream guitarist, Yule Logs bassist