A tumultuous year of unprecedented occurrences, the first half of 2020 is now history. Despite the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, and the prevalent social unrest, artists continued releasing new Indie music – some bad, some mediocre, and, acknowledging subjectivity, a smattering of excellent music.
So let’s take a look at selections of the best under the radar Indie music released so far, limiting the choices to independent releases, i.e. artists not signed to one of the three major labels. The criterion for inclusion is simple: superb music of any genre, excluding singles; in other words, EPs and full-length albums containing a gamut of first-rate songs.
David Walsh – 62 Special
Technically, this album should not be on the list, since it dropped in December of 2019. Yet its dazzling superiority demands its presence. 62 Special is a surf-rock album by Australian guitarist David Walsh, encompassing seven-tracks.
Walsh, accompanied by his son, Benjamin (drums, bass, flute), delivers music harking back to surf movies of the 1960s, like Ride the Wild Surf, and the heady sounds of The Ventures and Dick Dale. Totally instrumental, all the songs are original, except for one: Walsh’s version of “Pipeline,” the hit song by the Chantays.
62 Special transports listeners to the pristine beaches of Southern California, where surfers paddled out to sit on their boards, scanning the horizon, anticipating the swells, hoping to catch and ride the perfect wave. Entry points include “The Return of Shenzo,” “The Lonely Surfer,” reminiscent of The Beach Boys, and “6060.”
Strawberry Generation – Afloat
Twee-pop band Strawberry Generation dropped a yummy shoegaze-dream-pop-flavored album, entitled Afloat.
Made up of Valerie Zhu (vocals, sax), Luk Yean (guitar, vocals), Alejandro Subiotto Marqués (drums), Dan Davis (guitar), and Max Naftol (bass), the band’s name signifies Millennials, who are, according to detractors, unable to function in the real world, having been raised perceiving themselves as entitled to success, fame, and glamorous lives.
Entry points include “East George,” a personal favorite, a blend of surf-pop and new wave, exuding softly shimmering energy. “When You Were Here And I Was Sad” features Valerie’s velvety voice riding on jingle jangly guitars.
Ghostly Kisses – Never Let Me Go
Margaux Sauvé, aka Ghostly Kisses, who hails from Québec, released Never Let Me Go, a six-track EP flowing on elegant gliding tones, dripping swirling colors topped by Sauvé’s gorgeously wistful timbres.
Highlights include “Call My Name,” traveling on cashmere, bewitching colors, as well as “Where Do Lovers Go” and, probably the EP’s best track, “Stay,” which allows Sauvé to display her exquisite lilting control, infusing the lyrics with crystalline tones.
VAR – The Never-Ending Year
VAR, a post-punk band from Reykjavík, Iceland, released The Never Ending Year, a wonderfully wrought album chock-full of graceful, spectral textures. Reminiscent of Sigur Ros coalesced with The Cranberries, but more sinuous, the entire album is a wonderment. Yet withal, the deluxe track has to be “Moments,” suspended on the ethereal tones of Júlíus Óttar’s silky voice.
Blód – Blód
Straight out of France, sludge-doom band Blód, consisting of Ulrich Wegrich (guitars, bass) and Anna Wegrich (vocals, bass), released their self-titled LP.
Thick with clotted doom intensity and sepulchral textures, capped by Anna’s reflective yearning voice perfused by moody timbres cutting through the colossal layers of subterranean density of Ulrich’s guitar, the songs juxtapose grace and delicacy against dark implacability.
Not-to-be-missed tracks include “Spektrs,” featuring glutinous growling guitars imbued with the punch of Korn. “Tombstone” rides steroidal chug-a-lug guitars and pounding percussion, while an anguished voice keens overhead and then transitions to translucent melodicism. “Little Death” hemorrhages arrays of pain traveling on rising and falling echoes of black coloration.
Blód delivers bruising soundscapes chock-full of sonic shadows blacker than black.
Sorry Ghost – The Morning After
From the deep South, specifically, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, pop-punk outfit Sorry Ghost dropped their first album a while back, entitled The Morning After.
Recorded in the Big Easy, the guys in Sorry Ghost comprise Daniel Anton (vocals, bass), Matt Polito (guitar, vocals), and Tyler Hernandez (drums).
Clean and crisp are the two factors setting Sorry Ghost apart from run-of-the-mill pop-punk. Entry points include “Bumper Cars,” with its knock back bass and Hernandez’s finessed work on the skins. Akin to Fall Out Boy before they shifted to Ramada Inn lounge music, “Nose Dive” offers gleaming sonic tinctures and radiant harmonies.
Another excellent track is “Foundation,” especially the drumming, followed by “Triangles,” with its teeter-totter arrangement, ranging from low-slung and tantalizing to an upgraded enormous wall-of-sound.