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2021 Year End Best Of

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2021: the second year of the Pandemic. A year of increasing confusion. I mean, at first when it was just "stay home, and wear a mask if you aren't at home alone" everything was easy and made sense. But now most places are open, and some ask you to wear a mask if you want, but not all, and some people won't wear a mask no matter how politely you ask... Everything is confusing and i have no idea what is happening. All of which made writing music reviews seem ... unimportant?

This is an excuse, i suppose, for why EvilSponge has been so quiet lately. A general sense of uncertainty, but also i have been helping out with Record Plug a new print magazine in the metro Atlanta-Athens area. I will attempt to write more, here, next year. The writing on EvilSponge is a little more in-depth than the stuff for Record Plug.

But we will have to see what 2022 brings. So far it looks like more pandemic, but if we move into the "Zombies everywhere" phase of the apocalypse, well, then i will at least have lots of time home to work on reviews!


As i sat, alone at home for most of the year, tied to my computer desk by the necessities of commerce, i spent an awful lot of time streaming promos and listening to music. As such, i probably listened to over 100 releases from this year. I am not exaggerating, but honestly most of them were forgettable. There were however some bright spots...

  1. Somewhere by Sun June. This is a gorgeous slowcore pop record. Wonderful vocals (a little high pitched, so be forewarned) and great slow grinding songs. This Austin band impressed me so much that i eventually ordered their first LP as well. This is good music.

  2. New Long Leg by Dry Cleaning. Kind of a gimmicky band -- three members make funky, instrumental post-punk and the remaining member does stream-of-consciousness beat poetry over it. Really catchy though.

  3. Hey What by Low. So Low are ... doing their own thing. They invented slowcore, and here they are singing harmonies over electronic noise, the sound of their music destroyed in a computer and reverbing, echoing, and gyrating, often quite noisily. This is amazingly beautiful, but definitely not for everyone. (Example: I played this for The Girlfriend, a known Deadhead, and her response was, "Wait, they did this on purpose?", the italics indicating a sort of incredulity in her voice…)

  4. Clara by Loscil. Loscil narrows his focus, building an entire album out of samples of a three minute piece by a string orchestra from Budapest, and the result is stunning. I keep thinking "Wow, this is the greatest thing he has ever done" but then i remember that i think that with each of his releases. But on this one, the narrow focus of the source material is exploded and twisted and made into long, beautiful drones. Keep it up, Loscil.

  5. Pearldiving by Robin Guthrie. Guthrie is back after a long silence, first broken by the sudden release last year of a collaboration with Harold Budd (Budd died shortly therafter). But at the taill end of 2021 Guthrie released two EPs and an LP (and for Mr. Guthrie, an EP is four thematically tied songs, and an LP is ten interrelated songs). I find that i have missed his music, his wandering, his exploration of just what one can do with a guitar. This is ambient music of the highest quality.

  6. Inside Every Fig Is a Dead Wasp by Lunar Vacation. I have been disassociated from the music scene in my home town, and the pandemic certainly did not help that. But when i got a press release from Fat Possum that they had signed an Atlanta band, i went and tracked that band down online. And everything i have heard is of the finest quality -- pop music with keyboards, lots of guitars, and lovely female voices. This record is a great release, and i wish them success.

  7. Travelling by Rid Of Me. Four members of a bunch of Philly punk bands i have never heard of, get together and make, well, essentially they make grunge. That is to say, these veterans take all of their skill at heavy, noisy music and filter it through the pop of the 1990s "alternative rock" scene. I listened to a lot of that kind of thing in the decade after i graduated from college, so this hits a real sweet spot for me. This is really good.

  8. Euphoric Recall by MØAA. MØAA are ostensibly, i think, a goth band. Their aesthetic seems to be long, heavy, dark clothing in black and white wilderness scenery. And yet, they are goth in the same way that early Cocteau Twins were goth, which is to say only a few intro chords and a moody lyric here or there really compare to Sisters of Mercy or Bauhaus. SOncilaly it's an entirely different thing, and i think that Euphoric Recall transcends any label except "retro 1980s". They really have that 1980s feel down, and during a potentially world-ending event, the sound of my teenage years sounded really great.

  9. As Days Get Dark by Arab Strap. Arab Strap! My god, i had forgotten about them. They released a bunch of really great records in the late 90s to early 2000s, and then they broke up and, like so much of the music of that era, i kind of forgot about it. But from the opening of The Turning of Our Bones to the end of Just Enough, Arab Strap show us that there is beauty in a stark description of the bleakness of life. That has always been their strength, and they can still hold a mirror up to life like few other acts.

  10. Twin Plagues by Wednesday. This album is all over the place -- from gentle indie rock to chugging punk to folk to country-esque pop. I actually like the diversity, and i think that the singer Karly Hartzman holds it all together and makes it work. This band just keeps getting better and better.

I don't really listen to all that many singles anymore, but here are a few i enjoyed.

  1. If It Makes You Happy b/w Form by Rid of Me. For their second release, 1990s fetishists Rid of Me recorded a gritty cover of Sheryl Crow's first single. This version grinds and soars, with vocalist Itarya Rosenberg belting it out and showing that she has a more powerful voice than Ms. Crow, while the guitars are fuzzy, scuzzy, and great. This is a hell of a cover. The b-side is not bad, but that A-side!

  2. Bootlickers of the Patriarchy b/w With Sympathy by Shilpa Ray. Ms. Ray has kind of had it with the post-Trump word, and wrote Bootlickers of the Patriarchy about Maine senator Susan Collins. Let's say that Mr. Ray is not pleased, and this song is all pain and blistering rage. So, of course, she covers Ministry on the b-side, because what is angrier than industrial rock?

  3. Endless Summer b/w When I Laugh by Superchunk. I love the 'Chunk and the latest single is happy and fun. It doesn't carry the bite of their early 1990s stuff, but this is good middle aged indie rock for us middle aged indie rockers. Don't like it -- then stay offa my lawn!

Ah, the EP. This is a format that i really like. A good EP should be concise -- make your point and move on, no lingering, no long extended jams. Just fun tunes.

  1. I Became Birds by Home Is Where. I live just north of Florida (geographically speaking), but i have a hard time naming bands from Florida. Why is that? Well Home Is Where are a young band from Palm Coast, FL, which is southwards along the Atlantic coast from where the girl and i spend our summer break. And they make quirky, weird, energetic punk that is all over the place. This is gloriously chaotic music and i need more of it in my life.

  2. Night Suite by Suss. So bear with me here: Suss are a four-piece band from NYC that make ambient country music. No, wait, it DOES make sense! You see, they have pedal steel, mandolin, acoustic guitars, and that kind of thing, with some mellow washes of synth and the bare hint of percussion. It is music that seems to flow slowly, defining a space but in no hurry. This EP is the soundtrack to a night drive from Arizona to LA. And it is beautifully meandering.

  3. Hologram by A Place To Bury Strangers. So APTBS recently changed lineups quite a bit, replacing 2/3 of the band and leaving no original members left in the act. And this EP is a great introduction to the new version of the band: the same sort of noisiness, a little more of an electronic feel. If you like what APTBS has been up to, then you will enjoy this EP.

  4. The Alchemist by Noga. This is a four-song EP by a Brooklyn based songwriter that is, apparently, based on the new age hit book of the same title. Ms. Noga Shefi does a fine job here, crafting four fun pop tracks that move along nicely. I am unfamiliar with the book, so i am not sure how good of a job she does with that.

  5. Not My First Rodeo by Ok Cowgirl. Debut release by a Brooklyn four-piece dream pop act that started releasing tracks during 2020, when the world was on hold. They have a nice sound, with delicate female vocals and layers of guitar that can build to a denseness at times. Fun.

I'm not really much of a cinema person, but i did actually see a film in a theater during 2021: the latest version of Dune.

Now, i am a Frank Herbert fanboy and have read all six books that Frank Herbert wrote, and have (i am embarrassed to admit) read The Dune Encyclopedia (note: for those unaware, this is to Dune as the Simarillion is to The Lord of The Rings: an exhaustive, fanboyish, in-depth look at the fictional world), so i am a little biased.

But i loved it. The imagery was beautiful and the action was intense. And, like the experience of reading Dune for the first time, everything seemed a little vague like there was so much detail and history behind things that there was never time to fully explain everything. I think i spent a week afterwards answering the girlfriend's questions about certain scenes...

So if you want to watch a film and grasp it 100% on first viewing, this is NOT the movie for you. If, however, you want to watch a pretty movie with strange scenery, OR you are familiar with Dune, then this is excellent. Better than that movie with Sting at any rate...


Concerts started happening again in 2021, but i didn't really get back into going out in public. It just seems like its not quite safe enough yet. Or maybe i am being paranoid.

At any rate, i saw one show: The Ocean Blue with Small Reactions in Hell at the Masquerade on Friday 17 September.

I have been a fan of The Ocean Blue since their debut record came out in 1999. In fact, their first two records are still in rotation in my life, and i know every word and note on both albums. That said, they were excellent in concert and as i sat there bouncing and singing along, i lost myself and forgot all worries for a brief while. Such is the power of live music. Local act Small Reactions started the show off with a fun set of catchy post-punk. I will have to track down more from them. Overall, a good show.

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