It goes without saying that COVID-19 rendered live performances and touring virtually impossible for musicians, but 2020 was nonetheless a banner year for breakout indie artists. Some artists of note include Phoebe Bridgers, whose album Punisher launched the fledgling star into the stratosphere, earning her countless Grammy nods and plaudits from the likes of Sir Elton John; Bartees Strange, whose debut Live Forever synthesized post-hardcore, emo and rap and is even better than the Oasis song “Live Forever”; and Lomelda’s Hannah, the spiritual offspring of Dear Nora and Nick Drake’s Pink Moon. 2021 looks to be no different, for better or worse—and, like last year, we have some great new music to get us through the interminable horrors of our present reality. Here are some of the best new releases from the first quarter of 2021.
Coalter of the Deepers – Revenge of the Visitors
Coalter of the Deepers are a genre-defying rock band from Tokyo with a rabid cult following outside of Japan. They haven’t released a proper album of new material in almost 15 years, but Nashville-based label Needle Juice is issuing a full rerecording of the band’s debut album—The Visitors of Deepspace—on vinyl. It doesn’t seem like a rapacious, George Lucas special edition-esque gesture, either; these songs benefit from the enhanced fidelity, and Revenge of the Visitors captures one of the trippiest shoegaze bands in the world during the August of their careers.
Harmony Woods – Graceful Rage
Philly-based songwriter Sofia Verbilla—aka Harmony Woods—surprise-released Graceful Rage last weekend, and it delivers on the promise set by her 2019 album Make Yourself at Home. In terms of dynamics, this record is all over the place—there’s quite the gulf separating the woodsy, string-laden “Good Luck Rd.” from the full-throttle, CD wallet pop-punk of “God’s Gift to Women”—which opens with the unhinged and amazing line “Isn’t it fun picking out all the girls you want to fuck?”
The Boys With the Perpetual Nervousness – Songs From Another Life
The latest album from the Scottish-Spanish supergroup features some of the greatest wide-eyed jangle pop this side of the Empire Records soundtrack. These songs are wistful, shamelessly tuneful and performed on guitars—and somehow, they aren’t trite or corny.
Sheers – “Wet Plastic”
Lily Breshears is one of the most accomplished pianists, harpists and singers in the Portland music scene. Nationally, she’s perhaps best known as Haley Heynderickx’s keyboardist and collaborator, but Breshears has been playing local shows under the moniker Sheers for a number of years now, and her latest single—“Wet Plastic”—is one of her greatest productions yet. It’s a kitchen-sink composition that marries Breshears’ classical instincts to an obvious, abiding love of contemporary pop music. “Wet Plastic” is as twisted and atonal as it is radio-friendly.
Smirk – LP
Smirk is the one-man classicist post-punk project of Nick Vicario, who was one of Portland DIY’s heavyweight players for nearly two decades before his recent move to Los Angeles. Vicario cut his teeth performing alongside seminal Portland punk bands like the Exploding Hearts when he was a teenaged member of the hilariously-named Diskords; he would go on to play guitar and write songs for the lauded local bands Wild Ones and Public Eye, and has also worked as a freelance producer and recording engineer around town. Smirk is some of Vicario’s most straightforward and self-assured music yet; LP’s 12 songs rip by in only 24 minutes and bring to mind the swanky, slurred punk of artists like Richard Hell and Jay Reatard. Vicario also released a low-budget, public access style commercial to promote the record that advertises its songs as “badass rock music.” Consider the message received.
Home is Where – i became birds
There has been a lot of discourse lately surrounding the so-called “fifth wave” of emo, and there are few things more insufferable and isolating than attempts to demarcate and differentiate sub-sub-sub-sub-genres of music created with electric guitars. Maybe ironically, the more waves of emo there are, the farther we get from the elitism and obsessive reverence for the genre’s forebears that characterizes and ultimately poisons so much of scene culture. One of the preeminent fifth wave bands is Palm Beach’s Home is Where, whose EP i became birds is some of the most cathartic and novel emo I’ve heard in a long time. Vocalist Brandon MacDonald oscillates between an acrobatic wail and full-on screaming on the EP’s crunchiest track, “the scientific classification of stingrays,” which finds the emo quartet equally in thrall to canonical indie rock bands like Superchunk and Archers of Loaf.