Yearly Yinz 2020: Songs

Andrew Muse – Ain’t Nothing New To Me

2020 was the year that millions of people came to see American police forces as the racist, reactionary goon squads they’ve always been (never mind that many communities already knew that). Art popper Andrew Muse channels that weary knowledge on the fittingly titled “Ain’t Nothing New To Me,” a track on which he strums jauntily on an acoustic guitar while singing, “Cops are like cemeteries/You hold your breath every time one comes by/You hold your breath and then you die.” A chilling reminder of the fears that some Americans live with every day.


Automb – Serpent of the Night

With “Serpent of the Night,” the black metal alchemists of Automb summoned no less than Jormungandr, the aquatic ouroboros of Nordic mythology whose body encircles the entire earth (and will one day crush us all). Former Necrophagia guitarist Serge Streltsov alternates between brutal, chromatic riffage and winding interludes that channel a corpse-paint-wearing David Gilmour. Danielle Evans roars suitably apocalyptic phrases: “Bring forth the doom to all creation!” “Erase the cosmic worlds!” At this point, doesn’t sound so bad.


Samurai Velvet – Nite Out

With “Nite Out,” newcomer duo Samurai Velvet (comprising producer Joe Chilcott and singer Saige Smith) gave us a party anthem for the time of no parties. Smith’s lithe delivery is the perfect vehicle for carefree lyrics about forgotten pleasures like rendezvous, shared drinks, and DJ sets. Smith playfully beckons, “I think you should leave your girlfriend for me,” clubby trap percussion giving the suggestion an irresistible edge. This one made staying inside a bit more fun. 


Panta Rhei – 133 189

Aleatoric music leaves some element of composition up to chance (the word “alea” means “dice” in Latin). The term has historically been used to describe Pierre Boulez’s choose-your-own-adventure piano sonatas and John Cage’s fuckery, but RJ Myato’s Panta Rhei proved with “133 189” (from his August split with the bleak Thar Desert) that aleatoric theory can turn crusty heavy metal music into a swirling, impenetrable Eye of Sauron that looms over and crushes you. Let the beautiful maelstrom enfold you.  


Stacia Vonne – Lover

Stacia Vonne’s debut single, “Lover,” is not an especially complicated song. When you’ve got a loping, digitized reggae beat to work with and, most importantly, an earwormy hook delivered by an effortlessly warm singer, you don’t really need bells and whistles. This song is pure pop goodness.


Scratchy Blanket – On Top

When it comes to emo, the more unguarded, the better. Scratchy Blanket frontperson Shannon Keating leaps over that bar in “On Top,” the opener from February’s Something for Everyone, keening away over glittering guitar arpeggios and a propulsive boots n cats drumbeat. Encouraging a friend who’s come on hard times, Keating acknowledges, simply, “Sometimes you’re not/You’re not on top,” providing no insincere rays of sunshine, but promising, “When you’re down/I’ll be your strength.” Things might not be ok, but they don’t always have to be.    


Kallan – Honeybee

Kallan Elizabeth (or just Kallan) boldly announced herself with August’s The Impermanent Spectacle of Now, a rich, realized folk album from someone who had 0 Bandcamp releases before May 2020. “Honeybee” is a perfect example of Kallan’s rambling, poetic style, full of lyrics that follow her stream of consciousness as it flits through moonlit forests and fields of fragrant blossoms. “What am I, just pure fatigue out of touch?” she questions, yearning to dissolve into the natural world and leave behind human worries.


Jordan Montgomery – Black Folk 4 Life

Jordan Montgomery had his foot on the neck of white supremacy long before the black squares came up on Instagram. On “Black Folk 4 Life,” from March’s Thank U 4 Ur Patience, Montgomery unloads on a Pittsburgh city government that has, over time, sabotaged the Hill District, forked ever-increasing funds to an abusive police department, and allowed the dreaded Whole Foods to run rampant (“We already got one[…]/They’re tryna build another!” he exclaims, incredulous). A gritty guitar loop gives the whole thing the feel of a righteous warehouse cypher.


Sober Clones – PSA

In February, Sober Clones introduced themselves with a Psychedelic Service Announcement (“PSA”). The opener to their self-titled debut, the song is a brief-yet-glorious burst of fuzzy pop, complete with sunny, unintelligible vocals and laser beam guitar hooks. It feels like soaring through distant galaxies in a melting cartoon spaceship.


Pat Coyle – Mending Rhymes

Pat Coyle’s November release, Well-Lit Lie, balanced direct, vulnerable vocals with an entire toolshed’s worth of whizzing, beeping, clanking, scraping effects. Listening to “Mending Rhymes” is like watching Jeff Buckley perform a tragic piano ballad in a room full of blinking computer servers, digital blips intermingling with plaintive, broken-voiced lyrics. I dare you to listen to the way Coyle’s voice gradually rises during the chorus melody and tell me you don’t feel something


Guapo Lennon – Bloody Piano

The raw, gothic “Bloody Piano” functions as the “Dreams and Nightmares” or “First Day Out” of rapper Guapo Lennon’s May release, Way2Lennon. It’s got the cinematic build, the spine-tingling drop, the furious pace, the cathartic release of energy. Where those two tracks are triumphant, though, “Bloody Piano” is anguished and confessional. Guapo mourns, “Ain’t no good in me,” like an antihero sitting at a keyboard awaiting his own downfall.



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