Every year, good or bad, week after week, we never miss a listen to spine-tingling melodies that tick all our right boxes and make you want to put them on a loop, the pop is always able, in all its various forms of renewing its timeless magic, while almost constantly looking to the past, and to give genuine, indispensable and deeply exciting sensations. This is just a glimpse of what we like. HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!
- ANIMAL GHOSTS “Wail” [Self Released]
The third, and second album of the year, from Portland lo-fi shoegaze guitar experimentalist fizzes, dimples and dances on layers of swirling dark reverberations to create a foamy and hazy sea of emotional kaleidoscopic sonic waves that extend, bounce off, and back seamlessly over shimmery whispers into a sharply-crafted, sweeping and evocative journey for the mind.
- VACANT GARDENS “Under The Bloom” [Burundi Cloud Music]
The debut LP, born out the creative collaboration between singer-songwriter Jem Fanvu (Tune-Yards, Cavity Fang) and multi-instrumentalist Glenn Donaldson (Jewelled Antler, The Reds, Pinks & Purples etc), uncoils humming and sultry fuzzy guitar mists and hypnotic gauzy harmonic reverberations that combine organically giving rise to ecstatic visions laced with melancholy, pervaded by enveloping warmth, which expand calmly around dainty heavenly female vocals, in an immersive collection of snapshots that diffuse a lingering placid aura of suspended crystalline enchantment, nurturing the soul.
- bdrmm “Bedroom” [Sonic Cathedral]
In the most anticipated debut of the year, the Leeds/Hull band as modern alchemists rework and shape in a balanced and compelling esoteric interlocking of shoegaze, post-punk and also post-rock and ambient sonic elements from previous distant decades, through a captivating and somewhat cathartic immersion in tormented but comforting vibrant realms, steeped in inexorable deep darkness, that envelop, absorb and kidnap with seductive allure, to slip deeper, amid glimpses of soothing light, into a surreal final state of out of time aural bliss. Let’s enjoy a striking debut, the time to think about how the band will tackle that difficult second album is still far off.
- PEEL DREAM MAGAZINE “Agitprop Alterna” [Slumberland Records / Tough Love Records]
Brooklyn based Joe Stevens returns with his second LP enhanced by Jo-Anne Hyun‘s enticing vocal harmonies, channelling Stereolab and Broadcast retro pop vibes, VU minimalism, YoLaTengo lysergic rarefactions, kraut rhythmic reiterations and MBV psychedelic ethereality, stripped-down yet melodically rich, luminous and elegant, as distorted and mesmeric, assuredly inspired by the past, but with personality and gazing ahead, as shows the following brilliant companion EP “Moral Panics”, PDM‘s artistic development is increasingly burgeoning, finding its own distinctive groove.
- SPUNSUGAR “Drive-Through Chapel” [Adrian Recordings]
Teetering on the dark and unsettling edge of boisterous distorted shoegaze, brooding and harrowing post-punk and cold, sharp synthpop, enhanced by magnetic and alluring vocalizations, young Swedish band explore, with grit and aptitude, dissonant, yet melodic, gripping sonic territories, taking no prisoners!
- CINDY “Free Advice” [Paisley Shirt Records]
In their riveting sophomore album, Bay Area 4-piece dreamy droners depict mesmeric and timeless aural impressions and imbued with muted sunlight gleamed refractions, that delve deep into pensive and somber emotions, amidst sluggish rhythms, stripped-down, scruffed, sparsely coarse, twinkling strummed guitar, slinking bassline, wistful gauzy keyboard chords, drawing rarefied nostalgic emotional moods swept in fragile breathless vocals, draped in aching melancholy and elusive allure, in a languid and laid-back wander, swaying on the blurred lines between dream and reality. A sinuously enticing record of sheer simplicity, that deeply lodges in the memory like warming yet hazy flashes of distant moments in time.
- CUERPOS CÓSMICOS “Rain” [Choléra Cosmique]
Minimalistic, a laptop and a microphone, DIY crepuscular splendour from charming French/Argentinian artist Camille Motto wavering over contemplative, chilled-out and shadowy electro-pop realms, with a flow of enveloping warm synths to instil introspective rarefied emotional moods, rippled by underlying layers of inward uneasiness, underpinned by muffled downtempo beats, that at times intersect with wistful shimmering guitar motifs, whilst pensive breathing vocals harness an ephemeral enshrouding hazy aura of perpetual melancholy, deep nostalgia, and comforting hope.
- JETSTREAM PONY “S/T” [Kleine Untergrund Schallplatten / Shelflife Records]
It is not mathematical that a group of musicians with strong personalities is synonymous with success, but Jetstream Pony’s debut sweeps away any possible shadow of a doubt. The clear mastery of harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic elements provide a kaleidoscopic gradient of colour with fertile reference points in power-pop as much as in indie-pop, dizzyingly followed by jangle, post-punk, garage, amid plenty of irresistible hooks, fuzzy abrasive riffs and shoegaze reverberations, for a fresh and addictive just over half-an-hour that catches you up in a contagious and enthralling ‘schrammelig’ way. You know baby, we can’t get out of this place.
- THE LEFT OUTSIDE “Are You Sure I Was There?” [Cardinal Fuzz / Feeding Tube]
Multifaceted emotional guitar melodies, between crystalline incantations to piercing distortions, the wondrous interlocking of dual vocalisations just behind, and in the background evocative misty drones of viola and keyboard, to create moods with a vaguely esoteric flavour, woefully obscure, pervaded by a vague gray that confuses and blurs the edges, depicting landscapes immersed in a mist of a pastoral spell, where everything, the music, the words, the memories, is cloaked in the nuanced colours of autumn. A record that needs to be enjoyed in its entirety and continuity, giving it all the time and dedication it deserves.
- MIDWIFE “Forever” [The Flenser]
Marked by the death of her friend and mentor Colin Ward (whose voice we hear as she recites one of his writings in “C.R.F.W.”), Denver based multi-instrumentalist Madeline Johnston, known also as Sister Grotto, designs a masterful sonic realm with unparalleled sensitivity, at the same time powerful and evanescent, intimate and elusive, suspended somewhere between catharsis and sublimation, through soft synthetic beats, scattered brooding acoustic guitar, abrasive yet soothing shoegaze distortion, elusive ambient interludes stirred by wistful piano notes, from which the beautifully tragic harsh whispers escape with such a restrained passion and poignancy, as to transfix with their sheer strength and depth a painful bittersweet enchantment of transformation into something poetically pure and touching, for one of the most intense and visceral records of the year.
- A LILAC DECLINE “Shelter from the Shadows” [Rusted Rail]
A Lilac Decline, the alias of Swedish born, Galway based visual artist Cecilia Danell, in her second album, led by an instinctive and peculiar musical muse, draws vibrant and touching landscapes full of atmospheric allurement, embracing different suggestions that intersect dream-pop moods, 70s sci-fi electronics, introspective lush psychedelia, hazy shoegaze reverberations, and folk-rock textures, enriched by gentle, hushed female vocals, blended together to create an enveloping and captivating aural universe, regenerating refreshing and soothing inspiration in a vast sea of indifferent uniformity.
- SEATEMPLES “Trópicos” [Icy Cold Records]
Straddling the thin line between brooding post-punk and darkened psychedelia with atmospheric strains of shoegaze and dream-pop, the second LP by Chilean duo is a sinuously ghostly yet shimmering gripping drive, as much melancholic and melodic as it is nostalgic and groovy, that effortlessly triggers and evokes intense emotions.
- SMOKESCREENS “A Strange Dream” [Slumberland Records]
L.A. based trio serve, in their third album, a delicious, tasty, endearing platter of ‘back to the future’ ear candy guitar pop. Produced by David Kilgour from NZ legends The Clean, the LP clocks around 23 minutes of multichromatic aural enchantment, spiralling in a dizzying array of 60s and 80s references, like a refreshing breath of spring breeze kissed by filtered rays of warming sun, through hearty serpentine bassline and airy luminous melodies, to flow lightly over shimmering gentle layers of jangly guitar riffs and poignant bittersweet harmonies, to deftly reiterates once again that timeless pop magic seamlessly encoded in the DNA of generations of listeners, while just the short length leaves you somewhat disappointed.
- BELADRONE “Andévalo” [El Genio Equivocado]
“Andévalo” wanders through the multi-textural landscapes of the Andalusian region of Huelva along with dizzying layers of shoegaze fuzz, piercing post-punk bleeds, and groovy lysergic psychedelic reverb to drift the surreality between the fragile memories of the soul and the nightmarish obsessions of the subconscious mind. Hallucinatory reverie for the eternally young of heart!
- ETTI/ETTA “It’s Hallowe’en” [Self Released]
An Italian/Canadian couple of ‘old friends’ could not be missing with their unique stripped-down lo-fi and artisanal alchemy of dream pop and shoegaze with dashes of psychedelia and post-punk, painting hypnotic and vibrant hazy emotional landscapes, expansive and enveloping, in an intertwining of organic and electronic, saturation and rarefaction, that layer, rub and harmonize with iridescent and mesmeric effects, suspended somewhere between melancholy and enchantment.
- GIVE UP TO FAILURE “Burden” [Requiem Records]
Polish 4-piece noise rockers from Wrocław, unleash in their debut a rambunctious and vibrating, at the same time cohesive, highly emotional guitar sound, weaving flurries of cathartic noisy distortions, sharp, at times, claustrophobic tension, aching melodies buried in droning reverberations, scattered by languid and melancholy introspections, that shimmer and wriggle in the thick haze, to ceaselessly create abrasive, enveloping, alluring darkness that sticks on you, seeps under your skin, gnaws away at your soul.
- UNIFORMS “Fantasía Moral” [Oso Polita / Last Tour]
Andalusian quartet Uniforms unravel and soothe deep pain, hopelessness, and melancholy into an atmospheric and powerful sophomore LP, composed of a vivid, introspective, yet turbulent sonic universe shrouded in an extended and engaging chromatic spectrum, amid shimmering shoegaze reverberations and distortions, 4-AD-esque dream-pop bliss, kraut hypnotic reiterations, and swelling radiant psychedelic scents, for a fresh, balanced, and absolutely compelling result.
- RAPT “None Of This Will Matter” [Z Tapes]
Brighton musician Jacob Ware‘s debut album is an intense, stirring, and contemplative journey through muffled introspective moments in time, once dreamy and delicate, now ghostly and enigmatic, made of slow lilting and warmly enveloping acoustic arpeggios lingering around poignant yet gentle dual male/female vocals, expanding placid and sinuous, fraught with profound, fragile and dark wistful allure. The recent, equally precious, “Lived Alone” EP of Drake-sque stripped-down live acoustic home recordings is the ideal companion to dig deeper into a heartfelt and talented artist that worth all your attention.
- NAH… “S/T” [shelflife records]
Could only be a Modernist ‘orange and purple’ the colour of the cover from the debut LP from the Dutch/German duo, where Munster based multi-instrumentalist Sebastian Voss‘ jangle pop and power pop leanings match perfectly with the twee and sophisti-pop flair of Amsterdam‘s music-blogger and honeyed vocalist Estella Rosa. A nostalgic kaleidoscopic dive into a magical and unrepeatable dimension from the past, almost a cathartic shelter against nowaday’s horrors and distortions, drawn with a light touch and refined urgency, amid Sarah Records watercolours, Siesta candies, C86 sweets, insulin EL and soulful brass, string, and real trumpet flourishes, in a collection of endearing sunny tunes that nurture on a bright dizzying aura of melodic and melancholic crystalline enchantment. I used it before, but here it fits perfectly, “a marriage made in pop heaven”.
- ANCIENT CHANNELS ”Moment In Ruin” [Self Released]
Fueled by a vigorous militant rhythmic approach the Brisbane duo, made of Kelly Hanlon (Terra Pines & Deafcult) & Chris Preindl (Vestiges, Leavings and Apparitions), deliver a jamming debut of modern-day dream pop with shoegaze noisy and sparkling distorted textures, fluid atmospheric synth expansions, haunting post-punk hues and cosmic sci-fi leanings topped with ethereal, haunting vocals, to shape turbulent resonant moods poised between pensive melancholic introspection and distorted restlessness, brimming with infectious, propulsive energy and urgent passion.
- THE REDS, PINKS & PURPLES “You Might Be Happy Someday” [Tough Love]
Treating ourselves along all the year with almost a weekly release of endearing emotional guitar pop that lies somewhere between The Field Mice and the Go-Betweens, albeit instantly recognizable as his own, San Francisco’s Richmond resident kitchen pop artisan churns out, both familiar and genuine, heavy doses of navel-gazing angst and comforting melancholic bliss with whimsical jangly guitar strings and brooding vocal croons, to satiate the savviest bittersweet longings left from the abysmal 2020 taste.
- NAX “Congelado” [Self Released]
Buenos Aires‘ Nicolás Castello is a bountiful weaver, through his iridescent and contemplative guitar chords and persuasive voice, imbued with heartfelt sensitivity, of enchanted ethereal emotions and soothing reverberated distortions, amid ethereal Cocteau Twinesque dream pop and nuanced shoegaze, with an ecstatic and totalizing depth, suffused with intense melancholy and bittersweet nostalgia, where subtle secret uneasiness and bewitching purity blend organically like the blurred memories of a distant love. A curious, humble, talented musician still looking for his own sound, his last two singles, amongst his best so far to end an overall music-wise fruitful year, hints at further intriguing developments.
- BILLOW “III” [Z Tapes]
Already at the third album the Czech dream-pop band fronted by singer/lyricist Lenka Zborilova, a proof of fervent creativity with no lapses of quality, a fact that certainly could not escape to the pop-connoisseur neighbour Slovakian label Z Tapes. Slightly more electronic and with a more pronounced pop twist than its predecessor, the fresh and clear Lenka‘s voice shifts in tones, whilst never in substance, gliding on the waves of feelings and emotions, without losing in purity, heightened by a deft balance of electronic and organic instrumentation, for an enthralling and emotional immersion into a bright magical universe, veiled in velvety shadows, that envelop and captivate with seductive charm to intoxicate and embrace the senses.