Without a doubt Live Forever from Bartees Strange is my standout release this issue. It feels like a bit of a trip moving from straight pop-rock in “Boomer” to dark electronica in “Flagey God’’, and it should. The album is Strange’s commentary on music industry classifications, and while I could try to tell you that the album is rock-punk-folk-electronica-indie-darkrap-pop, that wouldn’t be accurate (or useful). Strange is commenting on the motivation to get as many streams as possible on platforms like Spotify, and how this causes labels to suppress the uniqueness of their artists; the more playlists you are put on the more streams you get and the more money you make. Live Forever is rebellious in this sense, standing in defiance with songs that each have their own distinct Identity; there is no place other than the album itself where more than 3 of these songs would make an appearance together.
Keeping in mind that they are drastically different, my picks from Live Forever are “Mustang”, “Kelly Rowland’’, and “Far”. Listen to “Mustang” for a fun electronic rock song reminiscent of early Morning Parade (check them out too), “Kelly Rowland’’ for being the stand-in sad-trap song, and “Far” for the way Strange interrupts Folk to bring some aggressive rock fills (it feels a bit like Of Monsters and Men mixed with Modest Mouse). I will say, before I close on this, that there is one constant throughout the album that is a little distracting. The noise floor is really high, and there are a lot of things that don’t feel as distinct as they could. While this takes away from the experience, it in no way makes the album less than it is trying to be. In conclusion, even if you hate the album, it’s a worthwhile commentary on the music industry, it’s only 35 minutes of your life, and you won’t hate it so the first point is moot.
Before we move on to 2021 I cannot, in good conscience, forgo the mention of Lianne La Havas’ Live at the Roundhouse. In a year where live music has been silent and solitude, absent of audience and the interaction they bring, Live at the Roundhouse stands out because of its embrace of this loneliness. Everything from the sustain and reflections in the empty room, to a crushingly soft and isolating vocal presentation, lends itself to the feeling of intimacy that we may have missed last year. This is not a lively EP, and it really won’t appeal to anyone looking for something other than soft R&B.
One band to absolutely keep an eye on this year is Greta Van Fleet. They’ve been dropping a few singles over the last couple years, and they are due for an album. Their last single, “Age of Machine”, is unapologetically seven minutes of sweet sweet tube amped guitar, rough cut vocals, and amphitheatre like sustain. This single, at the very least, is worth a listen, or you could keep going and listen to their whole discography in a night. I’m not saying I did that, but I will say that it’s not too hard to do (two albums and 3 singles). One final note, the next album is definitely coming soon. The title track on Anthem of the Peaceful Army is “Age of Man”. Coincidence?
Finally, I have to mention and honor MF DOOM. We lost one of the most interesting rappers of all time last year, and I can’t convey how true that really is unless you have heard him. If you want forward imagery, listen to
“Strange Ways”, if you want to hear him at his prime “Beef Rap” is the place to go, and if you want to hear his newest appearance check out “The Chocolate Conquistadores”. MF DOOM is the rap feature on this song, and his consistent and steady rhythm compliments the sustained and warped tones on the track underneath. After a while, he drives the song through a jarring genre change as the track cuts to a lively hotel-lobby-jazz beat. “The Chocolate Conquistadores” is absolutely worth a listen, and maybe it can be the track that brings a little more DOOM into your life. We know that MF DOOM isn’t nearly done changing the rap scene postmortem; Madvillany, a collaboration between Madvillain and DOOM, recently was certified silver in the UK, his birthplace. Death often brings the recognition one deserves in life, and DOOM is an extreme example; rest in power, supervillain.