2018 was another solid year when it came to album releases from our local indie, garage and punk rock bands. Here are 10 of the best, plus a few honorable mentions.
1. Warm Drag, Warm Drag (In the Red Records)
Wraithlike vocalist Vashti Windish and sonic architect Paul Quattrone (Oh Sees) concoct an enigmatic collage of throbbing, heavy, feverish sounds on their debut album. Windish is always beguiling as Quattrone constructs a symphony of mutated samples that juxtapose shadowy industrial clamor, raw noise and Cramps-like garage-rock extremism.
2. Mr. Airplane Man, Jacaranda Blue (Sympathy for the Record Industry)
Drummer-keyboardist Tara McManus and singer-guitarist Margaret Garrett are a longtime Boston blues duo, but the sun-dappled reveries and hypnotic incantations on Jacaranda Blue were inspired by Garrett’s sojourn in Los Angeles. Tracks range from such starry-eyed and fuzzed-out ’60s-style garage-pop songs as “Deep Blue” and “Good Time” to the swinging blues grooves “You Do Something” and “I’m in Love,” which mutate into more tripped-out and overtly sensual compulsions.
3. Traps PS, New Chants (Bandcamp)
Traps PS are just a trio, but Andrew, Danny and Miles spin out an endless array of seemingly disjointed jolts of funky bass, militaristic guitar, rumbling drums and curt, enigmatic scraps of poetry that double back on themselves with a tight post-punk power. At times, the local group’s jagged collisions evoke Gang of Four, PiL, Mission of Burma and The Minutemen, but Traps PS are even more intriguing when they act/react without antecedents.
4. The Cherry Bluestorms, Whirligig!
Singer Deborah Gee and former Dickies guitarist Glen Laughlin are clearly inspired by ’60s garage rock and psychedelic pop with their radiant new version of The Beatles’ “She Said, She Said” and such adoring original homages as “Roy Wood.” What makes the local power-pop group stand out from so many retro-minded bands is the strength of their songs, which are embellished further by Laughlin’s well-crafted production and arrangements. Gee’s enchanting vocals soar across such shimmering California-pop landscapes as “Seven League Boots,” in contrast to Laughlin’s urgently groovy “Purple Heart Magic,” which erases the line between mod and garage-rocking psychedelia.
5. The Thingz, Supersonic Saucer
Singer-guitarist Mike Morris and singer-bassist Kim Morris trade off on so many daft and silly Rezillos-style punk songs, such as “Hound God” and “Some Come to Dance,” that a lot of people overlook their darker, stranger and rootsier songs. Backed by eerie theremin undulations, Kim turns unexpectedly chilling and somber on the late-night country-road shuffle “Holy Jim,” whereas “Lost My Mind” is even more unexpected — a poppy slice of ’60s-driven freakiness. Drummer Jason Cordero pummels out the goofy songs and morbid spells alike with a nonstop, straight-ahead fervor.
6. Death Valley Girls, Darkness Rains (Suicide Squeeze Records)
Like The Thingz, Death Valley Girls are an ostensibly fun and rocking band who nonetheless have a more death-obsessed side, which lead singer Bonnie Bloomgarden explores in newfound ways on the local band’s latest full-length album. The opening combination of “More Dead” and “(One Less Thing) Before I Die” makes it clear that Bloomgarden and guitarist Larry Schemel aren’t giving in to despair. Instead, they’re answering back with full raw power, as Bloomgarden matches Schemel’s relentless waves of guitar with anthemic chanted choruses.
7. Taleen Kali, Soul Songs (Lolipop Records)
Former Tülips frontwoman Taleen Kali traces the vicissitudes of romance with such momentous songs as “Bluets,” which swings moodily and grandly from introspective melodicism into a thunderous and uplifting punk power. With production and occasional synth from Kristin Kontrol, plus mixing by Medicine mastermind Brad Laner, “Half Lie” and “Evil Eye II” are other tracks that blend riot-grrl punk fearlessness with more exotic musical flourishes.
8. Alice Bag, Blueprint (Don Giovanni Records)
As the lead singer of early L.A. punk legends The Bags, as well as a noted memoirist and participant in numerous underground musical projects, Alice Bag should need no introduction by now, but she tackles a wide variety of lyrical subjects and musical styles on her latest solo album as if she’s just starting out. Bag addresses sexism and wage disparities with her renowned punk-rock fire on “77,” but she also ventures into grandly elegant pop territory on “Invisible” and fuses girl-group dramatics and driving garage rock on “Stranger.”
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9. Phoenixook, Chaos Is My Friend (Spotify)
After years of slugging it out in the relative anonymity of Ventura County, lead howler/guitarist Evangeline Noelle and bassist Yam finally released their heavy, hard-rocking and aptly titled debut album this year. Such epic, doom-filled canyons of guitar and dread as “Pull Your Mask on Tight” and “Time Is Always Going” are too mystical and fulsome to be labeled as mere grunge, and Noelle’s searing vocals are so majestic and wild that they can’t be corralled by some limiting punk/metal/stoner rock label either.
10. Cheap Tissue, self-titled (Lolipop Records)
The L.A. punk quartet’s debut album is crammed with a dozen fast, nonstop punk-rock blasts. Such rapid tracks as “Feed the Children” and “Bag & Number” relent only occasionally for midtempo but swaggering interludes like “Apeman” and “On the Corner.” There are lipstick traces of The New York Dolls’ insolent rock & roll juiced-up Radio Birdman–level intensity.
Other great releases by local musicians this year include Busdriver’s Electricity Is on Our Side (another spacey odyssey of junkyard mutations and high-level wordplay); Pearl Charles’ Sleepless Dreamer (breezy pop and country lamentations delivered with a whole lot of soul); Fiona Grey’s Cult Classic (a real star is born as the local pop diva makes lust for life, love, money, fame and power feel sexy again); Lawrence Lebo’s Old School Girl (the blues-vocal stylist and songwriter puts a Stax-y spin on an assortment of blues and soul moods); Janiva Magness’ Love Is an Army (more funky, unifying blues and soul with a heart and a purpose); Amy Raasch’s Girls Get Cold (the actor reveals new musical personae as she slips in and out of a variety of clever, passionate art-pop disguises on her David Poe–produced debut); Lucy Arnell’s Anyways Any (the singer alternates between idyllic pop and more convulsive grunge shifts in her weirdly compelling songs); Georgia Anne Muldrow’s Overload (the funk-pop adventurer assembles another ambitious, multilayered psychedelic-soul opus); Winter’s Ethereality (a series of gauzy soundscapes and dream-pop idylls); TT’s LoveLaws (Warpaint guitarist Theresa Wayman’s solo album of hazy fantasies takes dance-minded electronica into strange, sensual territory); and Laura Jean Anderson’s “Silence Won’t Help Me Now” and “Love You Most” singles (the former is a more universal statement of identity and defiance, while the latter tune is a more personal and inescapably heartbreaking love song, like the year itself).