2020 has been bad for a lot of us, and none more so than local musicians. In fact, for them, weird isn’t the appropriate word. It’s been disastrous. Venues are dying, audiences are home, everyone’s broke, and morale is dropping fast.
Yet even in this climate of hopelessness, when packing it in has become an acceptable, if not the outright most reasonable, choice, some have still managed to find the light within themselves to create. Both in these stories told herein and countless left untold in the world without, there is evidence emerging of a human pattern unique to the pandemic experience: an initial depression of spirit; an acceptance of solitude that imperceptively becomes an embrace; and finally a rallying or rediscovery of purpose.
Whether this process represents a conquering of illusory barriers in the mind, or one last fight-or-flight spasm of the muse, is a question better left…
…Regardless, some great masterpieces have been quietly released this year, such as Cryptid Cabal’s debut album, Ingot, in September, which along with most of the music featured below, can be found on the SA Local Music Playlist project.
Now he’s back, and armed with a wider array of tools, including a new MIDI controller and a Volca beats machine, as well as his wealth of recent experiences. The music he’s making now is “more focused and more informed,” he says, comparing his new work as a reflection on the state of his life, and just so he ascribes the conflicted and unfocused character of his old. Now, as he humorously put it, we have another piece of Space Junk.
The soul of Space Junk is an excited yet precise curiosity and a pleasantly inhuman one. More than anything else, it represents a showcase of what is possible with his new toys and new determination; each track is a markedly different construction from the others, to the point that each is a potential foundation for sonically distinct branches to develop.
Of the six tracks, Digital Dust Belt is a particularly soothing 8-bit lullaby that both humans and robots alike can enjoy in harmony.
Listening to the album feels oddly like falling down a Wikipedia rabbit hole that starts with casually reading about John Dee and ends with feverishly cross-referencing the Corpus Hermetica with the King James Bible. Hypnotic chanting in Indo-Iranian tongues floats upon a sea of beats, wet and deep but ever-so-slightly industrial, narrated punctually by Scott’s growling voice reading from gnostic texts.
The strangest thing by far, however, is that it’s actually good. It strikes me as the sort of pet project James Maynard might attempt, if it were not for that it achieves a balance of listenability and esotericism he would in all likelihood overshoot.
Fans invested in his original image need not worry, mind you. Jason has no plans to halt his more traditional genres. Rather than transforming, his music is diversifying, he says, and he’s looking for new ways to intertwine what he’s learned about the old and the new.
If you like what you hear, subscribe to The Nicodemus Experiment channel on Twitch where he regularly streams, and you’ll likely be rewarded with new original tracks.
Unlike similar stories, John’s comeback is all the more poignant for that fact that 2020 wasn’t nearly his worst. Two years before, serious health complications nearly ended his professional and musical careers. With his dreams seemingly evaporating before him, the resulting depression became a pit that few have the strength to pull themselves out of. To see him now do just that is every bit as much a feeling of triumph for fans as it must have been for him.
Now he’s found a new partner in an old friend, Kristopher Robin, formerly of Emily’s Gone Mad. The two have been lifelong stalwarts, though at times separated by distance, and together they are piecing together the material written through his period of illness — material that he undoubtedly must once have been uncertain would ever be performed.
Ideologue continues the darkwave/industrial sound that distinguished the Phoenix. One of the project’s most arresting qualities is the palpable theme. While working through the catalog of songs and still searching for a name, the pair noted the recurring subject permeating the lyrics that “were a reflection of this time period.” Ideologue is more than a brand, it’s a message:
“We’re all lost in our convictions and passion, which is fine until those convictions become dogmatic,” he explains. “This isn’t just one group of people, it’s all of us. There’s something about this time that has made ideologues out of all of us.”
Their first single, “I Can’t Hear You,” is as fresh as it gets. The classic paragon-of-it’s-genre sound receives a glossy coat of almost pop-quality polish, and the finished product is of absolutely astounding quality, a credit to Kristopher’s ear for detail and hard-earned production expertise.
Ideologue’s first EP should release in February 2021, followed closely after by six music films to complement it.
At the core of the group are the beats of multitalented musician and producer Ryan McKissack. To bring his music to life, he has assembled a powerhouse team, enlisting the talents of singer-songwriter August Harris, Tanner Shaffer, and Nova Lux vocalist Christopher George.
The result of combining their strengths is a finished product that resembles acts far more advanced in maturity. More than that, they’re finding it has accelerated their personal development as they open new paths and push each other further down old ones.
The first fruit of their collaboration, “Chasing Daylight,” has been out for a month already and still has yet to lose any luster. The accessible and reserved beats led by Christopher’s silky, pop-star voice, along with its lyrical appeal and sheer seductive vibe, make it a shoo-in for the mainstream success it undoubtedly chases.
The visual component of this release is just as deserving of attention as the music. Shot by Wayne Fau, a veteran production guru of the scene and musician himself, the video is a jolting wakeup call to the progress our “sleepy little scene” is actually making — and what we’re capable of when we have the tools and the determination.
This collaboration doesn’t appear to be a one-shot, either; one album is close to being finished and it sounds like Ryan has plenty more material to work with for a second. If “Chasing Daylight” is a median sampling of what these four can do, we can expect no shortage of great things from WAV TWR in the months to come.
Of the two, “garden” is an instant favorite. It is a symphony of flavors sweet and chill, with swelling jubilant lyrics brightened and underscored by Noah Luna’s measured but potent drums.
What starts out as a smooth but confident ballad swells into what only can be described as that movie trope sequence where he takes you by the hand into a magical-metaphorical-psychedelical-technicoloral montage through space and time representing the entire scope and possibilities of love and desire.
The weird thing is, as you listen, you become oddly cognizant that these feelings ostensibly describing his for another are now describing yours for this song.
One of the most surprising additions to this list, “Take It Easy” is an unexpected and welcome release from local singer-songwriter Ashley Bailey.
Wrapped in warm fuzz and carefree the candidacy of its deceptively vulnerable lyrics, it is heartbreakingly easy to fall in love with this song.
Ashley is a familiar face at open mic music nights and a regular of the local circuit, where her honest music draws a crowd of loyal followers and applause from new ones. It’s wonderful to see her taking steps towards giving her songs a more permanent place to live on major music platforms.
Here’s hoping this is just the start of an expanding catalog from her.
Obligatory Mention: What Will It Take
While they may not be official releases in the traditional sense, the six local artists picked to create original tracks for the city’s anti-COVID campaign are technically more than deserve a mention (and a few listens). Not only
And Alyson Alonzo’s new radio jingle is an absolute bop. Good luck getting this earworm out your head for the rest of your life.
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