This year's been a genuine challenge for artists all over Phoenix. As we hover around a full-half year without live shows, musicians Valley-wide have been cut off from both a major source of income and a way to engage regularly with fans. (Web streams are cool, but there's nothing quite like the real thing.)
Silver lining: This change has afforded ample writing and recording time for many, and as a result, artists across the city are closing out the year with big new releases. Here's 15 songs and albums we're looking forward to hearing in the coming months.
No Refills have a unique take on standard pop-punk, tossing in strands of electronic and alternative to spice up the tried-and-true formula. Their further evolution continues with the release of a new six-song EP, Panic Interlude, due out in January 2021. Following September's standalone cover of The Weeknd's "Blinding Lights," the band unveils a proper single in "Steady AIM" on October 13. This super peppy number manages to carry a deeper message as the band champions the novel idea of "opening up to the world around [you] rather than fearing denial." Who said pop-punk had to be all goofball antics and sick power chords?
Liker other artists, Veronica Everheart spent 2020's quarantine finishing up new music. The 18-year-old is set to release a brand-new LP, It's Lighter in the Morning, on December 18. Our first taste of the LP comes on November 6 with "Through the Night." Everheart says the album, and by extension many of the songs, deal with "themes of heartbreak and self doubt. Cheesy, I know." But her songs aren't mere lamentations; Everheart knows how to fill tunes with a sense of depth and nuance to make any soured relationship resonate universally. Who knows when our new morning might arrive, but it's good to have artists like Everheart playing us through.
Ring Finger No Pinky
Still less than a year removed from their high school graduations, the four members of Ring Finger No Pinky remain committed to building their career and expanding their sound. After this spring's excellent Chlorine Bomb EP, the punk band have plans for two new singles to debut sometime in December. The first is a remastered version of the single "Murder," a timely ditty for this age of political unrest. Then, a new song called "Crumb Creek," which the band describes as akin to "being deep in a forest alone after you just ate five grams of shrooms." If this is what the youth of the day have to offer, things must just be dandy after all.
Over the years, Doll Skin have become great representatives not only of Arizona's punk scene but the larger cultural value of our little state. Part of that is, as they've gained more notoriety, they've continued to hone their sound and approach to songwriting. By year's end, the four-piece plans to unveil a new single, and with it the latest phase of this dynamic project. The band describes this as-yet-untitled tune as "a totally new era of transformation for us," adding, "We very much look forward to what people think...because it's a very elevated version of us, but it's quite different." Whatever direction they may venture, Doll Skin remain true pioneers.
Last September, Paper Foxes released their excellent debut album, Popular Confessions. Referencing everything from ‘80s funk and dance-pop to disco and EDM, it was a hugely sensual, especially playful record tailor-made for impromptu dance parties. This year, the foursome are following up with two brand-new "synth-heavy and dynamic" tunes in the form of "Heart Strings" and "Crystal Ball," one of which could debut before year's end. Sure, having both songs would be a great gift in 2020, but even one single is enough to jumpstart almost any party (yes, even in this, humanity's absolute worst timeline).
It's hard to fully describe Monique Hasbun. The Phoenix-based singer-songwriter has been called "Phoenix's Shakira" by some publications, but even that minimizes the sheer litany of influences that have shaped her sound. For the best example of this musical balancing act, Hasbun is releasing a brand-new single, "Al Nivel," in November. Per Hasbun, the song "is about women empowerment and independence. It’s in Spanish and the instrumentation pays homage to my Middle Eastern roots." Because no matter the language or the choice of instrumentation, Hasbun's brand of pop tends to cross even the most sturdy of borders.
It's not enough to say, pre-COVID, that Andy Warpigs was hugely prolific. In addition to playing a near-endless string of shows and steadily releasing music, each project reflects a different side of the rockers' voluminous heart and mind. Due out in time for Halloween, World War III Ballads is more on the "folky side of folk punk," Warpigs says. He adds, "Kind of with a mope rock streak because I've been sad and listening to a lot of the emo bands I listened to in high school. Just trying to mentally transport myself to better days." Whatever side he may be presenting, Warpigs always brings the sentimentality, sneer, and sincerity in equal measures.
Phoenix doesn't have an official band, and while there's plenty of candidates, you have to give a serious nod to Treasure MammaL. Over the last decade-plus, the collective has made incredibly weird and catchy music that somehow feels like the perfect bizarre soundtrack for the city's socio-cultural development. Case in point: the band's latest album, Grammy Nominated, which debuts on November 7. There's "Teamwork," which celebrates the feel-good power of collaboration over blown-out dream pop. Or, the catchy critique of modern romance in "Online Dating." Do we deserve Treasure MammaL? No. Are we glad they're here perfecting their shtick? Yes.
Tempe's own Acne Superstar have been growing an audience based on their '90s-leaning punk stylings. This November, as they ready the release of the excellently-titled Beer and Loathing in Tempe, AZ, more people could be singing their praises. The LP tackles a wide array of topics, including "anxiety/panic attacks, how much social media sucks and is toxic, and the passing away of relatives." Lead single "Null Hypothesis," meanwhile, is about "seeing the good in everyone regardless of whether or not you agree with their actions." It's that kind of ethos and emotional fortitude that makes Acne Superstar a candidate for your next favorite band.
Victor and the Spoils
Speaking of Acne Superstar, that band's Ryan King has teamed with songwriter Jack Escobar and Austin Ryan Cooper (of No Lungs) to form a new group in Victor and the Spoils. The band describes themselves as "a fever dream love letter to summer fun and incalculable heartbreak," culling inspiration from "1970s basement punk to '90s grunge alternative." Their debut EP, November's Get Away Clean, presents a "reverb-soaked soundscape that is somehow both upbeat and yearning at once." Based on the actual songs, the trio accomplish all that and much, presenting a take on punk that's equal parts nostalgic, indulgent, and utterly intense.
The Black Moods
Calling The Black Moods just another "rock" band isn’t exactly lazy; it speaks to something essential about this Tempe-based outfit's larger approach to music. As they proved with this year’s rollicking Sunshine, the band's sound expertly encapsulates blues, pop-rock, alternative, and arena rock, among other inspirations, in equal measures. So you know they’re more than savvy enough to manage a cover of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers' unsung classic "I Need to Know," which they'll release on October 23. If anyone can capture that song’s huge grooves and boundless sentimentality, it’s The Black Moods.
Janelle Loes is making further strides to develop her blossoming pop career. The young singer-songwriter recently traveled to Minneapolis, Minnesota to work with Grammy-nominated producer Andy Thompson on two songs from her sophomore record, Stranger, due out late February/early March 2021. On October 23, she’ll release the title track, which explores how "seeing someone in a new light at times uncovers disappointing truths." Then, on November 20, comes "Leverage," a song "inspired by dark crime dramas" a la Dexter and The Following. Whatever she’s crooning about, Loes’ brand of pop is a true earworm.
Bryan "Dadadoh" Preston
Much of Bryan Preston’s career has been about blurring the lines between hip-hop and punk. On November 13, he’ll get the chance to let both sides shine with two brand-new releases. First is "The Perks Of Being A Bad Bitch," a so-called "love song to/for all the baddies" from Preston’s funk-punk outfit Spicy Mayo (with guest spots from members of Captain Squeegee and Audrey Heartburn). Then, Preston will follow-up Dadadoh's 2016 RADICAL! album with the RATIFIED EP, in which he "flexes...beat-making skills and lyric writing just in case anyone forgot." Don’t bother choosing his best side: Preston brings the magic with every new song.
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Citrus Clouds have a true affinity for our home state. Why else describe their music, in part, as "desertgaze"? That aesthetic is front and center in the band’s upcoming album, Collider, which is due out in late 2020 or early 2021. Lead single "A Pastel Sky" is perfect for late-night drives around Piestewa Peak. The follow-up "Honey," meanwhile, seems fit for a breezy hike up north. But for third single "Whoa," available on October 23, the band capture the experience where "blurry nights [turn] into hazy mornings where you watch the sunrise." Citrus Clouds continually provide the blissful shoegaze needed to properly soundtrack almost any desert activity.
When we last spoke with Mario Yniguez of Harrison Fjord, the band had put their life-changing "Bulgarian" record on the back-burner due to COVID. That doesn't mean, however, they haven't remained busy. In mid-November, they’ll kick-off a "months-long" series of genre-defying singles. (Yniguez says the tunes range from "math-rock, Queen on acid" to a "Frank Ocean-y acoustic tune.") The first entry is "Lights," which serves as a "review of our lifetime as a band and as friends" before venturing toward new soundscapes. These singles may not be related to the LP, but Yniguez says they’ll provide new "colors" for completing that long-awaited project.