No Lungs — "Where's Your North Star Now?"
No Lungs is the brain-child of Chandler-based musician Austin Cooper. Opting to play every instrument himself (including the shaker and tambourine), Cooper has crafted a potent blend of lo-fi, emo, and indie rock with What You Didn't Want to Happen Is Happening Right Now. For a true showcase of this one-man musical machine, you need only spin "Where's Your North Star Now?" Anthemic and quirky, jangly and distorted, it's a slice of '90s alt-rock goodness filtered through the weirdness and wit of our kooky modern age. So, what's actually happening right now? Why No Lungs, of course.
Mega Ran and DJ DN3 — "Do Better"
With the latest volume of Ages, Mega Ran set a truly lofty goal: to "write his way through our most challenging year and explain the unexplained." The end result is a 10-track collection of songs that capture the big moods of 2020, like the promise of tomorrow ("H.O.P.E.") and accountability in the #MeToo era ("Men Behaving Badly"). But the real standout is "Do Better." As DJ DN3 lays down a beat of spaghetti western-style guitars, Mega Ran pontificates about how all of us can do more to create a truly just and loving world. Who knows if and when things will improve, but this song makes 2020 feel all the less threatening.
We Are Hologram — "Borrowed Time"
We Are Hologram are a collaboration between musician Ari Leopold and Richard Nihil (a.k.a. I Am Hologram). What the duo lack in creative band names, they more than make up for in musical chops. Case in point: "Borrowed Time," the latest single off the pair's debut self-titled album, due out November 30. Described as a "raw, truthful look at the sum of a person's existence," the song is a hazy homage to everything from '90s grunge to '60s folk rock, a melancholy reminder that we're all "living on borrowed time." It may not lift any spirits, but you'll likely find yourself enjoying the rush of heavy emotions and robust sonics.
Blunder Rats — "Quarantine Conspiracy"
While they're not the most well-known outfit in town, Zombiewoof Records has been delivering the goods as of late. The label has tapped into the great vein of experimental punk and hip-hop across the Valley, showcasing acts who blur genre lines with inventiveness and intensity. The latest label offering is the Pesticide EP from two-person post-punk outfit Blunder Rats. The whole six-track EP is worth your time (all 12 minutes of it), but "Quarantine Conspiracy" really stands out. This two-minute, 19-second jam is as stripped down as they come, a deluge of screechy instruments and nasal vocals that seemingly capture a complete mental breakdown.
Sarah Familiar — "Empty Plate, Empty Girl"
We've long held the theory that ukulele-based music is inherently inferior to other sounds. Not that it necessarily sucks, but it's hard to match the power and nuance of even your basic acoustic guitar. But then, we heard Sarah Familiar's song "Empty Plate, Empty Girl," and we may have to revise that notion. Familiar, a self-described "ukulele darlin'," has crafted something with the heart of a folk tune, the wit and edge of a punk anthem, and a true wellspring of emotion. She does things with a ukulele that show the true scope of this sometimes jokey instrument. If this is what we can expect from October's Words Worth Your Time EP, we just may be a convert after all. (Maybe.)