Yearly Yinz 2021: Songs

Sleep Movies – Am I Abyss?

We assume that each of us has a self; try to perceive it in concrete form, though, and it proves impossible. Are we really here? Are we all abyss? Sleep Movies attempts to work through that frightening question himself using woozy, crumbling synths, goblin voices, and trap percussion. The answer may never arrive, but the journey is pleasurably disorienting.


Emily Rodgers – I Will Be Gone

The title track from Rodger’s devastatingly beautiful album sets a portrait of intense personal loss against a delicate backdrop of strummed acoustic guitar and feathery violin. Referring to her brother, who died years ago, she sings, “Don’t forget him when I’m gone/I will be gone.” A painful listen, but an essential one.


Bilal Abbey – Copper Skin (feat. Mani Bahia)

Bilal Abbey upped the space metaphors to explore Planet Romance on Crash Landing, collaborating with up-and-comer Mani Bahia to delve into the highs and lows of love on this EP highlight. Bilal tunefully describes the rush of the flight, while Bahia deploys hypnotic turns of phrase to survey the wreckage.


Scratchy Blanket – Bloom

Shannon Keating’s voice is a raw force that manages to convey vulnerability and resoluteness at the same time, a must for any emo vocalist. Here, they take a clear-eyed look at a relationship that’s run its course, using the metaphor of a cramped house to convey a sense of claustrophobia. When they get free, though, assisted by fuzzy, anthemic guitars, the payoff is glorious.


County Conservation District – Slow Zooms

The figure behind the wonderfully weird Autumn Sounds tape label also creates droning, digitized soundscapes. This dose of blaring, strobing synth tones overloads the senses like a hundred neon lights flashing on your face at once. Recalls Oneohtrix Point Never’s Good Time score at its best.


Tough Cuffs – Hex

Hard-hitting punk rock that will kick your teeth in. Barked vocals, distorted audio, all-around mayhem. “Hex” adds a bit of swagger to the group’s sound, throwing some Southern-fried guitar licks into the mix and topping it off with some electrified wah-wah shredding.


Jack Swing – Daydreams

These dudes make some of the most danceable rock music out there. I thought that 2020’s “Get What’s Mine For You” couldn’t be matched in terms of kinetic funk energy, but “Daydreams” proved me wrong. It’s a bit mistier– frontman Isaiah Ross waits for someone “on the chance our minds may meet here in my dome”–but those trebly, syncopated guitars will get the toes tapping any day.


Hardo & Deezlee – I Can’t Dance

None other than the legendary DJ Drama introduces the opening track from Fame Or Feds 3, the Gangsta Grillz mixtape featuring Pittsburgh rap veterans Deezlee and Hardo. The former approaches things conversationally, sprinkling his bars with bits of humor, while the latter goes stone cold with a steely-eyed monotone. They can’t dance, but you will.


Sara Renberg – Mixtape

Where Proust’s Narrator had his memory kicked into overdrive by a madeleine, Renberg’s mundanely insightful (or is it insightfully mundane?) lit-rock reverie is catalyzed by a bead of sweat rolling down the face of a former significant other, glimpsed through a yoga studio window.  


S!MONE – Jealous

CMU drama grad takes a minor detour from acting (she’s in the new Bel Air show now, by the way) to drop one of the year’s best EPs, highlighted by a hothouse reggaeton cut that glistens with jazzy guitar accents. Clearly, jealousy sounds best delivered over a tresillo beat and sprinkled liberally with melismatic falsetto.


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