Pop music for me is made up of sudden sensations, memories, nostalgia, love at first sight, and excitement always digging around for the more or less perfect hook and melody. It is difficult for me to speak in terms of full albums, while in my youth I used to listen to on repeat the few records I could afford to buy and find around, knowing deeply all their hidden corners, over the years heavily into a lot of electronic dance music as well, I became more and more single-minded, moreover, rather obsessively collecting 7 “new and old singles. My mind is disordered, I have difficulty cataloguing, surely I will have forgotten something relevant, in addition to the fact I am also increasingly unwilling to rank. Not to mention all the limits deriving from the physical impossibility of being able to face the unstoppable torrential flow of releases, this is just a small sample of records that have given me precious and intense sensations that often pop in its most varied forms can provide. I hope I have been useful to someone. HAPPY NEW YEAR !!!
- A RITUAL SEA “Self-Titled” [Icy Cold Records]
Immersive and endearing debut LP from the Franco–Irish combo in which familiar suggestions and snapshots from the past are infused with a genuine and persuasive candour and pulsating, intense creative energy, punctuated by a ceaselessly off-tempo rhythm section, a hypnotic interweaving of enveloping effect-laden twinkling guitars, atmospheric airy synths washes, and sinuously warm basslines, shimmer through spectral hazy shadows to weave all-pervading poignant melodic propulsion imbued with dreamlike melancholy, that ebbs and flows around clear poignant female vocals effortlessly triggering fearful emotions, bringing to mind All About Eve’s most folksy airs as well as the timeless spells of the Cocteau Twins and the Slowdive blissful realms.
- BLANKENBERGE “Everything” [Self Released]
The compelling third album from the Saint-Petersburg based 4-piece once again, possibly this time more than ever, succeed at pulling our heartstrings with their finely chiselled organic alchemy of ecstatic dreampop and phantasmagoric shoegaze. The band meticulously shape spacious and enveloping mystic symphonies in a heady symbiosis of refined intersections and dynamic merges of instrumentation that expand and contract to emphasize their evocative intensity, amidst invigorating warmth and crystalline coldness, elastic serpentine basslines flicker within reverb-laden hazy layers of guitar, at time glistening shiny ripples, other times corroborating sparkling streams of fuzzy distortion that wax and wane between the clear sky and the gauzy earth, depth-defying melancholy and whirling drifts growing rife of pulsating emphasis, capable of evoking in every single poignant note precious blissful feelings, on which glide a beautifully contemplative celestial female vocals, dropping soothing ethereal breaths of angst, alienation, and comfort.
- CECILIA::EYES “Some Memories Always End” [DUNK!RECORDS]
The initially enigmatic Belgian quartet was certainly the most pleasant surprise of the end of the year. From the fickle and iridescent, carefully chiselled interweaving of crystalline reverberations, sparkly ripples, screeching distortions, soft percussions, and ecstatic vocals, emerge an evocative, intense and dreamlike sonic canvas in which insinuate and immerse oneself into a sheer stimulating flow permeated by otherworldly suggestions and heartfelt sensations, from which a vibrant array of feelings and emotions organically arouse and associate with stirring notes with kaleidoscopic colours, creating a bewitching and blissful sensory universe in which it is sweet to get lost in.
- CHIME SCHOOL “Self-Titled” [Slumberland Records]
Same crime scene as The Umbrellas, same label, and same love for a distinctive jangly guitar pop style, 12-string Rickenbacker in particular, only more experience from the Seablite drummer Andy Pastalaniec‘s solo project that chisels glowing, crystalline and ringing guitar arpeggios set in the 60s and 80s, to sprinkle sparkly energy and airy melancholy, whilst angsty, brooding vocals carve breathless paths of groovy, nostalgic croons through an emotional reflection on life’s ordinary pleasures. Hard to find particular flaws in the vibrant and melodically impeccable half an hour of the album, apart from a certain rhythmic stiffness, as it will have no difficulty sticking sweetly and inexorably in your head.
- CITRUS CLOUDS “Collider” [Lolipop Records]
3-piece band based out of Phoenix, AZ‘s debut LP is a dizzying surreal collision of ’90s fuzzy shoegaze and acidic psychedelic haze with a widescreen approach, in a shimmering whirlwind of cascading churning drums, warbling bass serpentines, wreathed in heart-wrenching layers of reverberant glistening guitar trills atop dreamy lost vocals that float and fall in beautiful heartfelt yearnings, to draw a metaphysical dry landscape, amidst sand, rocks and melancholic sun-dazzled sunsets, both hypnotic and transcendent, as they are spellbinding.
- CLUSTERSUN “Avalanche” [Icy Cold Records / Little Cloud Records]
With maturity possibly comes wisdom, not always a dampen of energy, as the veteran Italian trio clearly evidence in their seismically uproaring 3rd LP, smoothening their dreamy shoegaze inflexions, to offer up an absolutely menacing batch of fuzzy and sparkly psych scorchers in an invigorating blast of sharp and sinister riffs, heavy noisy raw distortions, dark and crepuscular melodies and obsessively pounding and rumbling rhythms, stirred by a sultry, burning flame throughout, that comes on fast from the start and never slows down, left you pleasantly trapped in a chilling barren desert of mind-bending bliss.
- CORDUROY “Self Titled” [VÅRØ]
Typified by a retro name and vintage ‘modernist’ orange colours, the Swedish quartet play a refined and seductive early-90s inspired brand of guitar-driven rock enshrouded in a shimmering and reverb-drenched warm cloud of shoegaze and dream-pop, tinged with psychedelia, confirming with their debut album everything positive they had hinted at since the early singles from 2020. The LP winds on shape-shifting, sizzling and twinkling effect-laden riffs, permeated by sinuously swelling deep basslines, drifting along into glowing distorted layers of cooling haze resounding of mesmerizing sparkling somber melodies, lying on a steady jaunty rhythmic underpin, whilst angsty dreamy vocals drop bittersweet nostalgia and melancholy into a painful reality of post-industrial uneasiness, gifting us with a blazing and compelling kaleidoscope of tantalizing dizzy emotions that lights up our greyest days.
- DEVOTIONS “Pusher” [Somewherecold Records]
Melbourne trio, made of Luke Zahnleiter (The Glitter Veils, The Rational Academy), Kate Mockunzie and Thomas Roche, lush neon-lit dark pop, burning with simmering passion and swirling 80s nostalgia. Whilst it’s easy to fall into comparisons, taken in the grip of bulky dreampop sacred monsters such as Chromatics and Beach House, the pair move with enough personality and charm, while delving into the same elegant, nocturnal and mesmeric sonic boundaries, both caressingly yet wistfully melodic. The band deftly shade their hypnotic synthetic sounds with melodic lines drifting on mysterious, ghostly and dreamlike waves with a strong cinematic imprint, intersecting celestial ethereal catchiness and, oppressive, sinister, Lynchian shadowy moods, pierced by minimal yet reverb-dusted sparkling guitar shimmers, on which mould an agony and ecstasy of breathless broods falling hopelessly into a dazzling sea of stirring emotions.
- FLOWERTOWN “Time Trials” [Paisley Shirt Records]
San Francisco lo-fi dream-pop duo Michael Ramos (Tony Jay) and Karina Gill (Cindy), AKA Flowertown After the early delicious and enticing home experiments whose attraction was also due to the absolute spontaneity and swishing low fidelity, the duo return with their muted guitar pop drenched in a mesmeric and narcoleptic charm, laced this time with dreamier tones, if we want sharper and every so often more lively, although constantly cloaked in a gossamer veil of morning mist, which unfolds over wearily meandering and shimmery guitar chords, against a backdrop of gauzy lilting atmospherics, weaving fragile lullabies, strummed spectral elegies, reverberant jangly sparkling riffs and languid Velvets-like chugs, through which the hushed, languorous dual vocals intersect and overlap with naturalness and grace in a constant osmotic dialogue, to elicit an intimate and cosy ghost-like somber dimension imbued with deep melancholy and twisted fantasies.
- GRAND DRIFTER “Only Child” [Subjangle/Dotto/Sciopero Records]
Italian musician-singer and composer triggers a warm, sentimental and comforting feeling I have exclusively for the records I grew up with, that are relentlessly lingering inside me, it is like rediscovering a part of my roots. The clear array of mainly 80s influences (The Go-Betweens, The Field Mice, Even As We Speak, Blue Boy, C86, The Clientele, The Beatles etc.) are re-interpreted with a distinctive songwriting depth along with a fresh and heartfelt melodic sensibility through a chiaroscuro of intimate, sober and, at the same time, refined sounds, rambling around the gauzy sunrays and dainty blurry mists of a swaying infusion of jaunty rhythms, sparkling jangly guitars riffs, tinkling piano notes, sparse harmonica swells, on which stand out rich evocative and genuine vocals imbued with intimate melancholy and dreamy nostalgia, subtly stirred by dark undertones. Immaculate timeless indie pop, it feels like home.
- HELIGOLAND “This Quiet Fire” [Editions Furioso]
The first full-length studio album in more than a decade from Paris-based, Australian dream-pop veterans Karen Vogt (vocals, guitar, keys) and Steve Wheeler (bass, guitar, keys), hasn’t lost its magic to pull straight at our emotions. Nostalgic, atmospheric, cathartic moods bloom from the agony and ecstasy of magnetic, soothing, and evocative vocal beauty flowing like cool, celestial breezes along slow, winding melodies, dense, layered shimmery guitars, heart-pulsing basslines, and smooth percussive movements to meld rarefied dreamlike reveries and wistful folksy nuances into a profound emotional immersion of transcendent ambient bliss. An album that you have to listen to from beginning till end to be transported into its spellbinding ambience, and once you’re fully immersed, everything around you stops.
- LURVE “Self-Titled” [Library Group Records]
Debut album by the Russian-Estonian band, formerly known as Gaarden, shines for its wistful and glistening dreamy melodic quality enriched by heartfelt confessional lyrics, echoing the nostalgic and sombre UK guitar pop from the 80s, through jaunty and tight rhythms, deep snaking basslines, sparse distortion and breezy melancholy that roam, brimming with freshness and urgency, throughout the album on a carpet of crystalline and chiming jangly guitar melodies, at times concealed in a shadowy veil of post-punk bleakness, just enough to add further layers of gloomy haze and at the same time fascinating yet poignant shades of tormented and disturbing emotions, embued by dreamy sad vocals, paving dark nostalgic paths through a character-driven biography, where women, alcohol, and failure plague a tortured soul whose fear of being alone drives away those who love him most.
- MEYVERLIN “Daily Events” [Too Good To Be True]
Born out of a near accidental meeting between kindred spirits and a creative clash of distinctive personality, the experienced French musicians Philippe Lavergne and Thierry Haliniak, enriched by the piquant lyrics of Gilles Ramey, wander through a familiar wide array of guitar pop shades with extraordinary naturalness, immediacy and simplicity, thanks to jangly bittersweet guitar melodies and angsty heartfelt vocalizations in invigorating breezes of melancholia, nostalgia and yearning. An absolute delight for those who have delved into the most exciting evolutions of the brightest and most stirring British pop from the 80s onwards, without forgetting a sprinkle of winsome 60s harmonies.
- SMILE “The Name of this Band Is Smile” [Subjangle/Dotto]
Italian churning out a chock-full intoxicating concoction of infectious and high-energy punk-inflected guitar rock with a relentless fuzz, frenzy pummeling rhythms, springy bass lines, a dynamic wall of glimmering, jangly guitars to swell the songs with a hazy bright glow, against breathy, angsty, and heady vocal vigour. A succinct, sharp and utterly irresistible album that defies its clear influences (early R.E.M., Husker Du, Replacements) through its rip-roaring freshness, sheer sincerity and songwriting prowess.
- THE REDS, PINKS & PURPLES “Uncommon Weather” [Slumberland Records / Tough Love Records]
From good obsessed with a certain Sarah/Creation Records inflected guitar pop sound, we follow the San Francisco denizen and former Art Museum, singer-songwriter Glenn Donaldson for some time now, when popped out from his casket mysterious and intriguing singles on Bandcamp, almost on weekly basis, invariably framed by colourful pictures of his living surroundings. The relative wider diffusion and the support of a well-respected label, could certainly not affect the quality of his deft songwriting, but only instil greater awareness, from such a shy and reserved personality, furthermore informed at its foundations by an in-depth and wide musical knowledge. Seemingly simple and homogenous, yet with a crystalline melodic gift, at first, full of subtle nuances upon further listenings, caressed and soothed by his warm and enveloping deep voice. Moving and meticulously honed short snapshots that convey the affective dimension, at the same time introspective and disenchanted, which binds him to his neighbourhood of Inner Richmond and also a sullen and detached investigation, capable of revealing all the fragility of the human soul. An all-pervading concoction of warming emotional intensity and mesmerizing melodic flow with minimal folk tinges, crammed with guitars that strum and jangle, awash by airy keyboards, in magical balance over beautifully emotional vocals evoking hopeless, heady melancholy.
- THE UMBRELLAS “Self-Titled” [Slumberland Records]
We stubbornly keep falling into the same pleasant trap when it comes to certain bygone sounds, but the Bay Area 4-piece deliver them with such naturalness and authenticity that seem to be amongst the real originators, with sparkling and intriguing jingle-jangle guitar sound of Byrdsian recollection that teeters on Blueboy, The Sweetest Ache, Vaselines, and Pastels coordinates, on which alternate, layer, while fuse nostalgic, angsty male / female vocal harmonies into an aloof yet playful stroll down memory lane. We can’t help but just surrender to such a nice pop.
- VEIK “Surrounding Structures” [Fuzz Club Records]
French 3-piece premieres their own Brutalist/Modernist take on Krautrock by mixing in pulsing and enveloping vintage analog electronica, incisive and obsessive rhythmic reiterations, avant-garde instincts, Factory Records bleakness, and ghostly Suicide-like synth hallucinations. As old, stark, and abrasive as it is somehow lithe, organic and groovy, Veik’s debut is not only a heartful nostalgic tribute to the past, made with solid personality but a clear sign of a band bold and imaginative enough to entrance and surprise the listener even further in the near future.