Taylor Momsen and crew have delivered another album of dark beauty, at turns hard and soft, at turns full of fire and full of loss, longing, and lament. Death by Rock and Roll is the long-awaited followup to 2016’s excellent and gritty Who You Selling For. Death by Rock and Roll is a more polished, less raw album than Who, less energetic, but certainly not lacking its own emotional rollercoaster.
I had the privilege of being part of an online album release party, complete with Q&A with Taylor herself, who is wise and mature beyond her years. We got to listen to her talk about her classic rock influences (The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, among others), and her year in relative solitude, all of which is reflected in some way on the new album, which features cameos by Tom Morello, Matt Cameron, and Kim Thayil. The album cover, she said, is quite symbolic, shot on a real gravesite, with her fetal pose surrounded by death while looking towards the light and away from the darkness.
Over the past few years I’ve become quite a TPR fan, and hope to see more join the ranks as this talented bunch spearheaded by this gifted powerhouse singer/songwriter deserves all the attention in the world. Check out Death by Rock and Roll today.
Standout tracks: Death by Rock and Roll, 25, And So it Went, Witches Burn
Whatever else happened this year — and it was a lot — it was still a very good year for music.
2020 saw the surprise returns of Fiona Apple, AC/DC, Deep Purple, Armored Saint, Public Enemy, and the Smashing Pumpkins. We got great new albums by Ozzy, Taylor Swift (yeah I said it), and Testament, among others. But as I say every year, this is not an attempt at listing what I think are the best new albums of the year, but instead the ones that got under my skin and stuck around on repeat for a while.
I do enjoy making this list. I listen to tons of music all year (Spotify tells me that on their platform alone I listened to 423 new artists for 25,914 minutes in 2020!) This list gives me a chance to share albums that might not be more widely known, and also to revisit music I’ve missed, when I take time in early December to look back and catch up. As usual, there’s a few you’ll know, a few you won’t, and a surprise or two!
Normally I say ‘in no particular order’ but these are a little bit in order. I unashamedly love Athenian rockers Puta Volcano and I had this album on hard repeat on and off all year. AMMA is a little less up front and obvious than Dune, their previous full length, which is one of my all-time favorite albums, but that just means there’s more to grow on here. Dig in!
Speaking of surprise returns! After a 20 year break between albums (take that, Tool!), Sweden’s legendary Lowrider dropped this bomb in early 2020, causing shockwaves throughout the heavy music world. Refractions is the awesome follow up to Io, the now-classic debut by these seminal stoner rockers. I expect to see this album on a lot of year-end best-of lists.
King Buffalo quickly came out of seemingly nowhere to become one of my favorite bands in the last couple of years, and I was really looking forward to seeing them again in SF this past spring, before the world got cancelled. Dead Star is a semi-concept EP bridging the gap between 2018’s critically-acclaimed Longing to be the Mountain and whatever masterpiece they cook up next. Just killer progressive stoner rock that you don’t listen to as much as experience.
Elephant Tree is one of those bands that if you know, you know. Granted, I had never heard of them until Jamie from San Francisco’s Brume told me about them some years ago. But I was hooked instantly on their hypnotic brand of psychedelic space rock, which has one foot in the 60s and one in the future. Habits is the highly anticipated follow up to their 2016 self-titled album, and it definitely doesn’t disappoint.
Balls out, straight ahead rock and roll, just turn it up and get your headbang on. Heavy 70s style Aussie hard rock in the vein of Sabbath, Deep Purple, Rainbow. It’s just feel good, top down, get your ya-yas out bluesy heavy guitar rock.
Maria Brink and crew bring their special brand of hair-raising cathartic power and emotion to In This Moment‘s newest release, Mother. With powerful covers of songs like Fly Like an Eagle and We Will Rock You (feat. Lzzy Hale of Halestorm), as well as amazing originals like The In-Between, the latest from In This Moment is a must listen.
Part QUOTSA, part early Beatles, all Green Day and a whole lot of fun. A little less cynical, and a little more power pop, Father of all Motherfuckers is an energetic treat, with a lot of nods to early rock and roll in its peppy songs and polished production. I love that these guys just keep on doing their thing and dgaf what anyone thinks of their sonic experimentations.
Deftones are an acquired taste, and I wonder if people out there who love classic Deftones will feel like this is watered-down, accessible Deftones, but then again who cares, it’s just good. Relentless raw nerve vocals alternated with mellow melodies over staccato beats, Ohms is… well, it’s Deftones.
Casting the Circle is the second full length release by LA doom trio High Priestess. If you’re unfamiliar with the psychedelic swirls and melodic mist of High Priestess’ magical brand of doom rock, then now’s your chance to dive in and get caught in their spell.
Somehow, while I was listening to Reverie on repeat, trying to decide if I liked it or not, it wormed its way into my psyche and lodged there for several weeks. The funny thing is that this album sounds very much like it doesn’t care if you like it or not, it is what it is despite it all — crushingly heavy pounding fuzz rock, swirling through time and space and passing through your brain on its way.
Wolftooth is back and has stepped up their game with their second full length, Valhalla, sounding more like the best of the Sword than they did on their self-titled 2018 debut. just pure riff rock fury in NWOBHM style from these Louisiana metalheads.
Last but not least is the latest from Louisiana rockers The Heavy Eyes, Love Like Machines. Not to be confused with the now-defunct Flying Eyes, who they call to mind on this fuzzed out feast of funky catchy riffs. Fans of Kyuss, Clutch, and Freedom Hawk will dig this one, a future desert rock classic.
Honorable mentions – Ordinary Man by Ozzy, Excruciation by Curse the Son, Cyr by Smashing Pumpkins, Scorpio by Atomic Bitchwax; What You Gonna Do When the Grid Goes Down? by Public Enemy, Si Vis Paceum, Para Bellum by Seether. And honestly I wanted to like Marilyn Manson’s latest We Are Chaos but I didn’t.
Bonus – this year I’ve created a Spotify playlist of selected songs from the albums listed here, enjoy! Micropayments for everyone!
What are your favorite albums of 2020? Comment below or let me know!
I’ve been following auteur Alexa Melo since she dropped her amazing cover of Marilyn Manson’s The Beautiful People back in 2015. Her latest full length is a fantastic trip into the musical world of her 90s influences, from Marilyn Manson to Mazzy Star, from PJ Harvey to Gwen Stefani.
Melo wrote, performed, and engineered this excellent album herself, and man does it deserve to get noticed. Standout tracks: Man in the Window, Flightless Bird, Hopeful
Support her on Bandcamp, listen to her anywhere, share the love!