The Arizona music scene may be well known for punk and metal, but there's an entire spectrum of underground music just waiting for your ears. Put on your headphones and listen to these seven local releases that made a splash in their respective genres last year.
Sister Indica & Daniel Cox — I Tried To Escape, The Past In My Teeth
Formerly a member of the habit-donning queer charity organization called The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Sister Indica became a local mainstay with her status as a "rogue nun." She keeps the attention of her audience with her music career, the podcast Joy Bomb , and the audio drama Blazed All Our Lives.
"My life went into a different direction when I joined The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence in 2009, and I never thought I'd ever marry my musical side with my drag side," says Indica.
She explains how her music career began at the age of 15 in noise and spoken word after being inspired by artists like Laurie Anderson and Karen Finley.
"I also wanted to do something to celebrate my first album coming out [by] taking songs written 20-plus years ago and revamping them for the children of today," she says.
With the help of producer Daniel Cox, Indica updated the tracks with a modern dance beat to underscore her bawdy tenor delivery. The five-track EP plays like a mature Pet Shop Boys-inspired release. She confirmed with Phoenix New Times that she is working on her next EP, which bears a similar concept of reinvention, along with a full-length album.
She says, "When all is said and done, 2020 is going to be, as the kids say, lit!"
Jack Acid — Under the Sink
Musician Andrew Hosley, currently performing as Jack Acid, has been no stranger to controversy since his earlier project, Joeseph Jaymes, came under scrutiny after poorly received comments made by the artist on Facebook were interpreted as racist and homophobic. Over the last two years, Hosley returned to the local music scene under his current pseudonym to perform his blend of thrash, metal, doom, and rap alongside a cadre of performers called Doom Division.
After the response to his music video "I WANNA FUCK CLAIRO" in November 2018, Hosley collaborated with Disgusting and Abiss on beats, along with mixing and mastering from former Doom Division member and rapper Schizo to release Under the Sink, a strange six-track journey into the mind of a rapper who utilized his controversy in the name of complete reinvention.
In a conversation with New Times, Hosley describes the release as a "1995 Midwest poverty 40x spice trailer trash mullet garble."
When pressed on comparisons between this EP and his latest music video release, "Gutless," the rapper, who recently signed to Slope Records, kept personal opinions cryptic.
Hosley says, "My perception of my music is my business, and your perception of which track is better is the consumer's prerogative and is none of my concern."
Dwayne and the Rock Hard Johnsons — Blue
Armed with tracks that simultaneously demand raw party energy and banks on childhood nostalgia, Dwayne and the Rock Hard Johnsons, the coy-and-crassly named party-punk band, quickly mowed down any "gimmick band" labels with their electric performances. If you haven't witnessed the self-proclaimed "main Dwayne" Ben Schifano swinging from a rafter while belting out a punk cover of Miley Cyrus's "Wrecking Ball," you might not be prepared for the adrenaline-fueled acid trip laid out in Blue.
"The goal of Blue is to be 'Dwayne' at our most 'Dwayne,' [or an] amalgamation of 2000s pop culture references, my own personal life, and politics," says Schifano. "[Like the appropriation] of the music we grew up with through our own lens, Blue is the first EP out of three which we are calling GEN ONE, [while] the next EP, Red, is going to be more emotionally and musically raw."
Tracks with the titles of "Tony Hawk!!!" and "My Number One Hit Single" smack listeners square in the jaw with their fast tempo and addictive melodies that are hidden in the chaotic composition that only a "Dwayne" could understand.
"Blue is how I view the world and my thoughts, [while] Red is my feelings," Schifano continues. "We’re going to end it with Yellow, which is when we’re going to look at [present day] and say, 'Fuck it. Let’s just be happy and have fun.'”
Schifano hopes it's a ska album.
No Lungs — See You There
Following the re-recordings of his two first albums, former Phantom Party drummer and No Lungs brainchild Austin Ryan released his first batch of new material since the recent release of single, "Curt Kobain." The frontman described the personal experiences that led to See You There.
"The music was inspired by self-loathing, my mom dying, my love life crippling at the seams, and every time I lied and said I was okay," says Ryan. "I found the photograph [used for the album cover from 1996]. The crematorium allowed me to add something to burn with my mom, so I wrote a note on the back of that photo and placed it with her."
Skating somewhere between emo, punk, and pop, the 10-track journey takes the listener through wistful nostalgia and aural reflection. The song "New Devil" is written from the perspective of a manipulative megalomaniac.
"I get nervous playing it live because I feel like whoever listens to it will think I’m talking about myself," he says.
Austin further told New Times how the track "Sleepwalk My Years Away" is his favorite.
"I was in a relationship at the time where I felt like [my girlfriend and I saw each other as strangers]," says Ryan. "It’s a song about letting go instead of trying to fix something that isn’t working. You’ll be happier that way."
Harrison Hufman — Lost in the Sands of Time
Those familiar with the DIY scene might have stumbled upon one of the many music projects spearheaded by Harrison Hufman. Whether performing with his band or with Half Drag, he made his mark in the last few years by creating in-your-face indie rock with whatever equipment he could get his hands on. The brief, abrasive tracks found on Lost in the Sands of Time sum up the trends bubbling under the surface in the Arizona DIY scene: fresh globs of melodic noise recorded on the most available software.
"Some of those songs sound like it was recorded with a toaster, but most of them were done with an old Dino laptop my dad gave me in seventh grade," says Hufman. "The songs [in this collection] have been under the table since 2015/2016, [and] most of them are songs [created] with my old friend Solomon."
The combination of noise, punk, and rock blend together like an unruly rebellion. And yes, the songs also sound like they were recorded in a toaster.
JuniorTheArtist — Monarch Butterfly
Inside dark local clubs live a burgeoning rhythm and blues scene that individuals like JuniorTheArtist are trying to keep alive. Sporting a legion of Arizona artists like Julio Romero III, Taylor Rene, and Zonaboii, Monarch Butterfly is a 2019 experiment in reconciling classic R&B with modern pop sensibilities. That's something bigger labels like Def Jam failed to accomplish.
"When I started working on the Monarch Butterfly album, I wanted to do it all on my own," says JuniorTheArtist "It was my first time doing [an entire album] without backing and recording, mixing, and mastering everything myself."
Clever pop hooks are lined with flamenco-tinged guitars on tracks like "Thunderstorms," allowing Romero's and JuniorTheArtist's voices to blend seamlessly. He later displays his rap skills on "Change Your Life," with Rene taking care of the sugary hook with her slick vocal delivery.
"My favorite song from the album would have to be 'Paradise,' [since] it was the first song I wrote for the album [while] I was on vacation with an amazing person [who] I ended up falling in love with," he says.
KURO — #JustAnotherHypeN*gga
While performing under the guise of his band or Half Drag, It would only be appropriate to close out this list with KURO's bluntly titled 2019 EP. It was two years in the making, according to the man behind the pseudonym, Kenny Finklea. Compared to other current rappers, Finklea’s voice takes a sarcastic, smarmy tone. He backs his flow with sharp synths and deep bass.
"I wanted an EP I could perform and jam out to, but I wanted it odd like ? by XXXTentacion," says Finklea.
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The rapper listed his favorite tracks from the EP as "Waterfall" and "Hennessey," the first marked by ghostly melodic feminine vocals and talk-sung vocals. "Hennessey" stylistically sounds like a love letter to the current state of rap production.
"I love collaborating with other like-minded artists, and have about 10 features dropped and unreleased [from] Golden, Scottie da ghost, and Solomon Grand," he says.
In sharp contrast with today's Soundcloud rap movement and its rejection of traditional gangster rap style, Finklea's flow meets these contradictions in the middle, throwing in some healthy dubstep and drum and bass in between bars.