The Hit Songs of October 2020

Man, the top 40 was weird this month. Songs popped up then plummeted. 21 Savage’s entire album charted one week, then all but disappeared as everyone moved on to something else. Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” recharted 40 years after being released thanks to a TikTok video. (I didn’t include it in this month’s rankings but that song’s a solid 87-90. I really like the whole Rumours in general.) Oh, and country actually had a taste of pop success this month, so all around a busy month on the charts. What that does mean is we got a lot of tracks to sift through, so hold on to your butts. (throws the main breaker). Note: There’s a ton here so a lower ranking doesn’t necessarily mean a song’s bad. In fact, if you want to get right past the bad and meh, jump down to like #20.

31. Justin Bieber and benny blanco – Lonely
Another “woah is me, fame is so hard” anthem from the Biebs. I thought “I’ll Show You” was bad enough. I usually find strength in tracks where artists express their struggles with mental health. It can help those who are struggling to find something in pop culture that they can relate to, knowing that they are not alone in the struggle. But fuck is this just whiney. It sounds more like the slurred wailing of the drunk cryer in the group. It’s hard to feel anything for you when your expressions of self-loathing come off as nothing more than a cry for attention instead of help. There is a difference. The minor keyed Fender Rhoads backing track just amplifies this feeling that the emotions are disingenuous. I’m not saying the kid doesn’t have mental health issues and I wouldn’t dream of berating him if that were the case, but there’s nothing on this track that feels like a genuine examination of his heart. And seriously, what the fuck is that warble on the hook?

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October 30, 2020

Mr. Bungle – The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo (Ipecac)

It’s easy to forget an origin story. Especially when the results of a journey are so iconic. Mr. Bungle is often remembered as the experimental, genre-bending side project of Faith No More frontman, Mike Patton. Well, he got that spot (replacing Chuck Mosley), on the strength of a Mr. Bungle demo tape. 

In hindsight, this is a strange move, as nothing on this demo screams Faith No More. What it does scream is “Speak Spanish or die” (“Hypocrites”) and “Anarchy up your anus / Anarchy up your butt / Butt” (“Anarchy Up Your Anus”). These are precisely the lyrics you would expect from the minds that brought you “Squeeze Me Macaroni” and “My Ass Is On Fire”, and are even belted in the ‘80s caffeine-fueled aggression of a youthful Mike Patton. Which is most impressive on “Methematics”. 

Musically, the band is often described as starting out as a death metal act before experimenting with fusion, funk, jazz, and anything else they felt would “fit” into a song. As this is my first glimpse into the stuff that happened before their self-titled debut, I had always taken that as truth. The reality is a chaotic combination of thrash, punk, and hardcore metal styles, but primed with a level of IDGAF-ery that borders on riotous nihilism. 

The technical skill of the players is obvious and remarkable, but is intentionally suppressed in favor of slapshod moments of effective juxtaposition. Some guitar solos on Easter Bunny are insane shreds (“Spreading the Thighs of Death”) and others are odd-timed, odd-tuned wrecking balls (“Glutton For Punishment”). The drums are consistently rampaging throughout the 56 minutes of the record. 

Ok, this demo release took me by surprise. But I am 100% here for it. Is there such a thing as “pre-nostalgia”?

Because I think I’m experiencing it.

FFO: Melt Banana, Melvins, Helmet, Gemini-era Slayer

-JR

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October 23, 2020

Nothing But Thieves – Moral Panic (Sony)

Wrapping your head around Nothing But Thieves might be a tricky thing to accomplish, but trust me, the payoff is worth it. They have a knack for making something strange sound perfectly, reasonable pop-ready. 

Gritty guitars riff in syncopation with a steadily pounding beat, while keys fill in the gaps. There aren’t many gaps, so the keys are pretty subtle. 

Vocally, this is a different animal altogether. Conor’s voice is smoother than Adam Levine’s (when he wants it to be), as playful as Brendon Urie’s, and just plain better than Brandon Flowers. Though favorable comparisons can be made to all three. 

Moral Panic is the 3rd studio album from the British quintet, and the first to capture my attention. I will revisit earlier work to see if it was just me, but this one feels different. This is particularly true of the jarring album opener, “Unperson”, and the mid-record wake-up call, “Phobia”, which shift gears multiple times creating a frenetic, almost manic headspace. The guitar-heavy “This Feels Like the End” provides an uplifting look at the end-times, and just jams.

Sure, there are some less impressive attempts to be a “relevant” pop group. “Real Love Song”, “Free If We Want It”, and the title track fall most obviously into that category. Those songs aren’t terrible, though. Actually, they are probably more accessible to a casual listener, but seem a little dry in comparison to the other songs’ level of creativity. 

And elitism is still sexy, so I’ll take the others first. 

FFO: Royal Blood, Panic At The Disco

-JR

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October 16, 2020

The Struts – Strange Days (Interscope)

I am in love with this record. 

Is it great? No, not really. 

Is it profound? Oh, good lord, no!

Is it Kiss with a frontman who can sing? YES!

The title track opens the album and features Robbie Williams’s unbelievable pipes, and is the least Kiss-like track on the entire presentation. From that point on, Strange Days is a non-stop festival of power chords, wailing vocals, songs with almost no substance, and a whole lot of volume. IT MUST BE PLAYED LOUD. It loses so much if it’s not just ripping through the speakers. 

And honestly, it’s just that kind of music. What kind of mole-person listens to Kiss softly? No one! 

Oh, the icing on the cake of this leather-vested glam-rock magnum opus? A cover of “Do You Love Me”, by…oh, you get it by now. 

There are plenty of other tracks to get your hair moving though. “All Dressed Up (With Nowhere To Go)” is reminiscent of “Hot Blooded”, “Wild Child” features Tom Morello, doing his thing, and “Cool” has elements of Jet and early Mooney Suzuki. There’s a whole lot of distortion to be had here, and none of the tracks are skip-worthy. Give yourself a party and jam this loud. 

FFO: The Darkness, KISS, Jet

  • J-J-J-J-JR
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October 9, 2020

Travis – 10 Songs (BMG)

As most bands that have been around for several decades, Scotland’s Travis’s has changed their sound quite a bit over the years.  Or, to put it more appropriately, they have added to their various sounds.  From their debut album, Good Feeling, to this release, 10 Songs, you can hear additional layers along the way.  You’ll remember Travis from their big singles, “Why Does It Always Rain On Me?” and “Sing”, but they have far more wrinkles than that – both literally and figuratively.  If 10 Songs marked their final album, it would be a fitting culmination of all that they have learned and tried throughout the years.

You have noisy 90s-esque track “Valentine”, early-00’s piano rock tracks “A Million Hearts” and “No Love Lost”, and late-00’s indie jams “A Ghost” and “Kissing in the Wind”.  It’s a pretty wide swath to cut through an album, but it works – thanks to an undeniable chemistry.   Travis’s composition has remained unchanged since 1996, and it shows.

The four-piece has an effortless sound.  They shine vocally, with Fran Healy leading the charge.  The harmonies are few and far between, but perfect every time.  As far as specific tracks, I was very fond of “A Ghost”, a track about seeing the spirit of what you once were, and how to get back to that.  The ending track, “No Love Lost”, speaks on feeling like shit, but still getting after it nonetheless.  Both songs – as well as several others – touch on that concept, getting through life even when life throws up roadblocks.  In that way, it’s a very inspirational listen.  And 10 Songs is a very, very good listen to boot.

10 Songs is the perfect pandemic record, which is amazing considering that most of it was written before the pandemic.  Travis has proven that they can still strike a perfect chord with their music, some 23 years and change after their debut.  Well done, Travis.

FFO: Coldplay, Keane, The Fray, Semisonic

  • Z.
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October 2, 2020

Jonsi – Shiver (KRUNK)

A crystalline disc is placed on the spinning dais, diamond dagger poised to strike. Heedless of its fragility, awaiting death beneath the fangs of an insatiable predator, Shiver prepares for the torture of an endless cycle of surface cuts. 

Sorry, I think I blacked out for a moment. 

Simultaneously understated and heavily acclaimed, Icelandic experimentalist Jonsi is best known for his ambient walls of sonic beauty with Sigur Ros, as well as his soundtrack work. 

For Shiver, he doesn’t stray too far from the relaxed tightrope of heartstrings that make up the Sigur Ros catalogue. The songs are fragile, held together only by the sheer strength of will engrained in every fiber. “Sumario sem aldrei kom” is a middle-of-the-album track that clearly expresses the ambient power that we’re used to from him. 

Not everything is in quite as familiar territory, however. “Korall” combines the techniques with a newfound love of static-based life forms and chaos demons, while “Wildeye” and “Salt Licorice (w/ Robyn)” give in to the recesses of an unhinged state of mind. 

As much as I love Sigur Ros, this is much more my speed. With no expectation of sticking to a particular aesthetic, Jonsi is letting his personal idioms do whatever the hell they want. 

FFO: AWOLNATION, Thom Yorke, Sigur Ros

-JR

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September 25, 2020

Deftones – Ohms (Reprise)

On their 9th studio album, Chino, Abe, Frank, Sergio, and Stephen have decided to maintain the persona they carefully crafted in 1995 with Adrenaline. I’m not sure how much I’m going to be able to say about them at this point, but it’s worth a shot.

Here’s the biggest thing: you know what you’re going to get when you buy a new Deftones record. The tone is set before songwriting even begins, piling on the anger, angst, and disgust in equal measure. Stephen’s signature style of riffing with no flourish and crushing drops is going to give you new meanings to the word juxtaposition. The drums are going to plod along until the moments where the oddball fill jolts him awake and makes a 45 degree turn on the downbeat. Chino’s voice is going to be filtered through as many effects as they can find before finally settling on “tin can at the end of a garden hose” as the desired output. 

Oh, did I forget to point out that it’s amazing? I did? Dammit, I buried the lead again. Let’s start fresh.

There’s a good reason Deftones has outlived the majority of Nu-metal. They never fail to deliver. The angst on Ohms is in the nature of calling for resistance (get it? Ohms = resistance?) Whether that’s fighting against internal demons (most of the record) or struggling against unnamed forces (“Urantia”, “Radiant City”), they connect with the emotions of battle. 

It’s also super-rare that the bassist, any bassist, gets to provide more melodic movement than any other member of the band, including the vocalist. So, if for no other reason, check it out. 

Oh, look! I found things to say. 

FFO: Glassjaw, Chevelle, Chore

-JR

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Podcast the Thirteenth: September 2020 in Review

Another month, another batch of music to review and/or lampoon.

Zack’s Top 3 Albums of the Month

3. Tim Heidecker – Fear of Death
2. Big Sean – Detroit 2

Detroit 2 was released nearly 8 years to the day of the release of Big Sean’s fourth mixtape, Detroit.  Back then, Sean was doing it: his first studio album, Finally Famous, had dropped the year prior.  A week after Detroit would be the release of Cruel Summer, a compilation album showcasing several G.O.O.D. Music artist, including Sean on two smashers: Clique and Mercy.  He was still with his high-school sweetheart too.

Fast-forward to today: Detroit 2 is Big Sean’s sixth studio album, and he hasn’t slowed down a lick.  He’s quietly made a name for himself as one of the best rappers in the game.  And, like all the greats do, he spans a variety of topics on Detroit 2, without holding anything back.  Whether it’s the diagnosis of his heart condition on “Lucky Me”, the squashing of the apparent non-beef with Kendrick Lamar on “Deep Reverence”, or the vulnerable matters-of-the-heart jam “Guard Your Heart”, Sean puts it all out on the table.

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