Yearly Yinz 2020: Songs

Brittney Chantele – J.R.O.T.C.

While the April murder of Vanessa Guillen at Ford Hood forced the public to consider the scourge of sexual harassment and assault in the US military, Brittney Chantele has been speaking, rapping, and singing for years about the trauma she experienced during her time in the Army National Guard.  “J.R.O.T.C”, the second track from February’s harrowing, autobiographical The Golden Opportunity,  transports us back to the day that a high-school-aged Chantele was so impressed by a recruiter that she signed up on the spot. “I trust you won’t leave me misinformed/You don’t want me torn,” she flows, tragically foreshadowing the coming tribulations. Chantele sees the track and album as a warning to kids who may be tempted by an often-toxic institution.


The Hazel Effect – White Gold Trim

So-called Emo Rap is one of music’s unfairly maligned subgenres, possibly because its face-tatted purveyors often physically resemble such embarrassments as Lil Pump and Tekashi 6ix9ine, but, at its best, it can be transcendent. The Hazel Effect’s “White Gold Trim” provided such a moment, elevating a soured relationship to epic proportions. A text message penetrates the back like a knife, a whip becomes a doleful chariot, a broken heart becomes a powerful drug. The “blacked out Benz with the white gold trim” will take you to a realm of digitized melodrama.


TRVSS – scale model citizen in a scale model town

After releasing 2019’s frenetic Absence, the noise punks of TRVSS took an algebra course and upped the mathiness factor for New Distances, which managed to crush even harder while wearing its pocket protector. “Scale model citizen in a scale model town” lurches around like a big, doomy leviathan, incorporating abrasive, computer-crash guitars, gritty bass, and vocals that couldn’t be more sneering if Ozymandias himself–cold command and all—fronted the band. Cacophonous and visceral, this one truly kicks ass.


1sis – Rack$ On Me

Newcomer 1sis announced herself with “Rack$ On Me,” a scrapper anthem that repurposed a standard money boast as a motivational mantra for better days ahead. She’s not talking about funds she has now, reminiscing instead about “nights my stomach hurt ‘cuz ain’t no food up in the kitchen” and yearning for the day that she can buy her brothers and sisters some new threads. Her odds may be long, but 1sis defiantly proclaims, “From the bottom, so I can’t fall.” Her melodic bars complement her vivid storytelling abilities, creating a poignant testament to the underdog.


Blood Menace – Spine Poison

Shin Guard’s music is already pretty raw, but bassist Jake Yencik’s Blood Menace project pushed things to a whole new level of brutality with December’s Threat EP. “Spine Poison” is as gnarly as its title suggests, feauting bloodcurdling screams, mathy guitar riffs, and jackhammer blastbeats that hit with a mechanized relentlessness. Hear Yencik roar, “Strike down the oppressors,” and you’ll wallop the next Nazi you see.


ALONA – Dance Slow

The experimental electronic duo ALONA announced themselves early on in the year with R.E.D., and “Dance Slow” encapsulates everything unique about their sound. Muffled, womblike production turns the suggestion of a bedroom jam into a cryptic daguerreotype, something that’s been left to rust for years so that all edges are blurred. It sounds more like a death rattle than it does an orgasm.  


The Mixus Brothers – To The Music World Unknown

In March, Jebbh and Red Mixus (brothers in music if not in blood) demonstrated the elusive skill of making music about making music. In a homespun country singalong, the two “siblings” languish in cloudy Allegheny County and dream of playing the Grand Ole Opry. Once they start thinking, though, about all the other artist in the same situation, “sitting and playing at home,” the designation of “To The Music World Unknown” goes from one of ignominy to one of pride.


Dejah Monea – Fuck You Very Much

R&B artist Dejah Monea captured the spirit of the coming year all the way back in April with “Fuck You Very Much,” a coolly biting kiss-off that was written with a lying, cheating partner in mind, but has since popped into my head in a number of scenarios. Boomers proudly foregoing masks as they tote guns at state capitols? Fuck you very much. Our fine political leaders deciding that a one-time stimulus payment of $1200 was enough to get us through COVID? Fuck you very much. Cops killing black people, brutalizing protestors, and then lashing out at the ensuing criticism? Fuck you very much. Our idiot president spraying virus droplets from a podium? Fuck you very much.  


slowdanger – yourtime

Most of multimedia duo slowdanger’s projects contain both audio and dance components, but November’s “yourtime” is pure, propulsive sound, featuring grimy drum programming and a haunting, wavering vocal sample that combine to distill dance music down to its very essence. 


Same – Bluish

2020 has been the year of doomscrolling, defined by Wikipedia as “the act of consuming an endless procession of negative online news.” The members of Same couldn’t possibly have predicted the horrors of this year when they recorded the tracks of their May album, Plastic Western, in January 2019, but “Bluish”s talk of a “phone fried mind” and the observation that “everybody leaves you alone sometimes” seem predictive of a time when we’d be sitting by ourselves, a parade of shit gliding under our exhausted thumbs and down past the bottom of the screen. Check out those brittle keyboard plucks, too!   


Juss Jala – Muddy Waters

I don’t think I heard many hip-hop tracks this year grittier or more fiery than Juss Jala’s October single, “Muddy Waters.” Channeling the brash, commanding delivery, of MCs like Cardi B, Jala pulls late nights in the studio, downs Remy from the bottle, fantasizes about straight jackets and electric chairs, and kicks opponents into endless pits, 300-style. Prince’s doves may have cried, but Jala assures us that hers tote knives. In short, don’t mess with her.


thousandzz of beez – in Green (No More)

This July, the always-intriguing thousandzz of beez released an album–named after a faceless toad discovered in Connecticut in 2016–that included their version of a windswept 80’s breakup ballad. In place of glistening, maximalist keys and gated reverb drums, though, “in Green (No More)” is built from low-tech Casio (or something similar) and weeping synth tones. The effect, though, is much more tragic than anything you’d hear from Bruce Hornsby.



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