Sad Dance Party — "Older, Sadder"
Sad Dance Party are considering the unthinkable: growing up. Following 2018’s erratic, hyper-expressive Spontaneous Human Combustion, the outfit are expanding their sound with more complex structures and — gasp — semi-professional recordings. The first preview of this growth spurt is "Older, Sadder," a folk-punk anthem that paints personal development as an almost physically painful experience. SDP's process may sound hellish, but it's easy to get lost in the frenzy.
It's Embarrassing — ...Makes All the Pretty Girls Puke EP
Queer punk outfit It's Embarrassing claim to be a "niche band no one ever asked for," but who could ever dismiss a group that balances sunny nostalgia with biting lyrics? That two-sided approach is the thesis of the ...Makes All the Pretty Girls Puke EP, merging spunky, high-energy, ‘80s SoCal punk with eccentric musings on sex, online dating, and the perils of the modern workforce. This EP is punk music as both sugary escapism and frills-free commentary. Plus, you can listen to whole shebang in the time it takes to nuke a burrito.
Okilly Dokilly — Howdilly Twodilly
When discussing Okilly Dokilly, one question hangs perpetually overhead: "Will a Simpsons-themed metal band ever run their course?" For now, the answer is, "At least not through their sophomore album." Howdilly Twodilly is certainly in line with 2016's Howdilly Doodilly, managing to transform silly shtick into pulverizing metal anthems. But Twodilly somehow raises the stakes, with more power chords, ample folk crooning, and bigger gags. Now, just keep the pedal to the Nedal for album No. 3, neighborinos.
Harper and the Moths — "Your Love"
Harper and the Moths are outliers, embracing dance music in a way few other Phoenix acts just won't. As evidenced by "Your Love," from this year’s Dark Enough to Dance LP, the band simply have an innate skill for getting folks on the dance floor. With clear influences from both Prince and Fitz and The Tantrums, the synth-heavy gem tow the line between disco and EDM, a tale of modern romance bathed in laser lights and fog. Even folks with two left feet will want to strut to this slow-burner.
Post Hoc — Wilderness, the Villain
It's fun to imagine that when they were asked "emo, indie, or metal?" Post Hoc replied, "Yes." The Phoenix quintet’s debut full-length, Wilderness, The Villain synthesizes these influences so efficiently, rendering abstract poetry atop layers of heavy guitars and ambient noise. It's an album that might lull listeners with gentle introspection one minute before throwing a dropkick toward the ol’ solar plexus the very next. Because who ever said indecision has to be a bad thing?
Roqy Tyraid — Outbreak
Roqy Tyraid has spent years blazing a singular path through Phoenix's small but essential hip-hop scene. Luckily, all that hard work's earned him a famous admirer in DJ Green Lantern, and the pair have joined forces for the collaborative Outbreak. The 10-track album excels by balancing the dense, hard-hitting wordplay of Tyraid in tracks like "Wo Wo Wo" and "IWMAO" with Lantern's bare-bones production style alternating between the creepy and threatening — or both in the case of "FCC." Good on 'ya, Millenium Man.
Cheap Hotels — "Places"
Since 2015, Cheap Hotels steadily have built up their endearing brand of lo-fi, dance-ready indie rock. Following 2018's excellent Late Last Night, the band excel once more with "Places," a song that answers the question, "What if Lou Reed had been a millennial?" Under all that downtrodden poetry and lo-fi chic, "Places" captures the romantic sheen and existentialist dread that comes with getting older and figuring out the big, bad world. You could say Cheap Hotels is, uhh, going places.
Audrey Heartburn — Round 2: Fight! EP
Hokey band names aren't everyone's cup of tea, but Audrey Heartburn are so much more than even this B+ wordplay. The Tempe outfit's sophomore EP, Round 2: Fight! is as confrontational as the title suggests, a 15-minute smorgasbord of punk, ska, indie rock, and ‘80s pop that’s heavy on the energy and light on moments of quiet reflection. But through that in-your-face approach, the band manage to sneak by lots of solid hooks and emotional goodness. The whole EP feels like sniffing Lucas powder, but in the best way possible.
Heavy Breather — Worser
Consider any schoolyard experience playing dodgeball — the systemic shock that comes with taking a shiny red ball to the chin. That’s sort of what it’s like listening to Heavy Breather’s latest full-length, Worser. This 11-track LP is a full-on assault to the senses, with screeching, snarling hardcore raining down blows to the temple. Amid the onslaught, Heavy Breather demonstrate a kind of weirdo charm, making the album a genuine ear worm. Try bumping this one before your next adult kickball league.
El West — "Where the Lights Go"
Phoenix’s El West pride themselves on their technical skills — guitarist Thomas Brenneman, for instance, could talk an ear off about guitar pedals. But as demonstrated with "Where the Lights Go," El West can also expertly tug at the heartstrings. The song unfolds methodically, with lots of heavenly guitars and hushed vocals, before everything soars upward in unison, releasing all sorts of nervous energy in its wake. When the song's all said and done, find some comfort by immediately assuming the fetal position.